Mental health issues have their way of creeping into the rest of our lives, affecting us not only mentally and emotionally but also physically. Finding a way to work around her own mental health struggles, Deepa Kannan started her journey as a Yoga Acharya for over two decades now, a Functional Nutritionist, and a Certified Food and Spirit Practitioner. Since then, she has brought together the masterful understanding of the human anatomy with a cohesive understanding of Physiology to offer what can be classified as true bio-individual mind, body, and spirit nutrition. In this episode, she joins Timothy J. Hayes, Psy.D., to share with us some of her methods in helping people take care of their health using a holistic approach. Deepa also takes us into her podcast, The Sleep Whisperer Podcast, where she specializes in detoxification, women’s health, adrenal function, and sleep to restore them to a healthy and functional sleep pattern and lifestyle. Join Deepa in this conversation to uncover the transformation that happens when you take out one of the main inflammatory things in our system: stress.
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Deepa Kannan, Functional Nutrition Specialist
Deepa Kannan is a Yoga Acharya for over two decades, a functional nutritionist, and a Certified Food & Spirit Practitioner. She brings together two decades of her experience in therapeutic & transformational yoga and deep learning in functional medicine nutrition to her practice in Phytothrive. Special thanks to Deepa for going the extra mile and doing this from her car because the studio is closed due to Coronavirus restrictions.
Deepa, welcome. Thank you for being here.
Thanks for having me.
It’s an honor. Can you tell us a bit about what got you started on the path you’re on and what drives your passion?
It’s a long journey. It all started because I had a whole childhood of severe health challenges, skin issues, autoimmune issues and nobody was ever able to figure it out. Pretty much later when I went through an eight-year bad marriage and my health went sicker. By the time I got divorced, I felt as if I have been destroyed physically and emotionally. I started to think though that the level of stress which I had been through those eight years, like a lot of people around me who were struggling with anxiety and depression, I didn’t go down that route, but it attacked me physically.
It took me quite a bit of time to recover from that. I’ve been teaching yoga for several years. Yoga had a great deal to do with keeping me sane through these difficult times. Subsequently, after my divorce, I married a fellow yogi from the Himalayas. We had a little boy and that’s where my journey took a turn because my child was born with an adrenal disorder called Salt-wasting Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia, where the kids don’t produce cortisol and aldosterone. We speak about cortisol in a negative manner because everyone’s talking about how elevated cortisol can be responsible for inflammation, but in his case, he didn’t produce cortisol at all. I started to notice that there was a pattern that for the first year of his life, we will perpetually be running into the emergency room.
Salt wasters because they don’t have aldosterone, they lose copious amounts of sodium. They can dehydrate and die in a few hours of vomiting or diarrhea. I started to ask the doctors here in India, “Does food play a role, and does it help to manage his condition or does it help to prevent crisis because was going through much of this?” Every episode where we were in the emergency room, he would be on a triple dose of IV steroids to get him through that stress. Doctors typically here tend to say that food doesn’t play any role in anything. I started to dig a little deeper and I felt in my gut because our ancestors, grandmothers have said the gut is at the center of everything. If you got faulty digestion, it’s going to make you sick. I started to think, “What if all this was true and there’s a science to it?” I went back to learning and I became a certified nutritionist.
I discovered this magical space called functional medicine. That was a long journey of training with different people in nutrition based on the principles of functional medicine. I set up this practice here in India called Phytothrive. Functional medicine in India is new. When you speak about it, people don’t understand because nutrition is all about calorie counting and restriction, calculation. That’s not what we’re talking about. We’re talking about understanding systems, working on systems, understanding the interconnection of different systems, organs and looking at root causes. Through this all, I reached a point after several decades where I was symptom-free. A lot of severe chronic challenges suddenly went away from simple interventions and changes in diet and lifestyle.
I started to apply this even to my son and started to see that his hospitalizations reduced. We haven’t had a hospital stay for a long time. Once you start applying to the client population and see that people who are struggling with several challenges, suddenly seem to be better and they’re no longer having these patterns of falling sick. People tend to think that it’s all right to get a fever, cold, cough every 2, 3 months and take antibiotics for that. I truly have reached a place where I believe that falling sick, even getting a fever is unnecessary and it will not happen if there’s a balance going on within your body. That’s a short version of the whole journey.
You mentioned Phytothrive. It’s Phytothrive.com. What’s the bulk of your work? I know you also do yoga.
The bulk of my work is with Phytothrive. I’m a lot more focused on sleep, nutrition, and working with clients who have chronic sleep challenges. That’s also why I’ve got my podcast, which is the Sleep Whisperer Podcast. The bulk of my work area and I specialize is in detoxification, women’s health, skin, health, adrenal function, and sleep.
Is it that you are using a nutritional approach to restore people to a healthy, functional sleep pattern?
Yes. In nutrition and a whole lot more because I do include a lot of therapies and there is this intersection that I believe, which I bring into my practice which is the meeting point between ancient eastern wisdom therapies and this cutting-edge science of functional medicine. Using various tools from Yogic signs and different Ayurveda ancient wisdom hubs, therapies into the space of healing so that you allow the body to come back to a state of balance and optimal function.
When you have someone come to you, do they come to you for a general evaluation? Do they come specifically with certain chronic or acute illnesses? What’s the way people find you most?
We reached a point where people are coming because they’ve started to understand that this space of functional medicine and nutrition is for more chronic health challenges. We don’t get somebody coming to me saying, “I want to lose 10 kilos or pounds.” It’s more that they have been struggling. Nobody has been able to identify why are they having skin conditions that are autoimmune, not getting worse, constant bouts of anxiety, and waking up at night at 2:00 AM where anxiety peaks and soars, and then they’re unable to fall asleep again. A lot of chronic women’s health challenges can range from all ages of women including young girls who are in early puberty, women who struggle with every symptom that’s related to an imbalance in women’s health. Early menopause and all the mental health symptoms and challenges that women struggle with, including anxiety and depression, specifically if it’s cycle-related.
One of the things that I’m vocal about in India is that there are a lot of people who are working for mental health, but when asked about, “Do you assess people before you diagnose them with something like a bipolar disease or clinical depression? Do you even look at these under-the-hood root causes, possibly hormone imbalance, thyroid imbalance, nutrient deficiency of critical nutrients like iron, B12, and foliate?” A lot of people working in the mental health space say that these things come after the diagnosis. They are diagnosing a woman with depression, why she has deficiencies of iron and B12? She’s got severe estrogen dominance, but they’re not considering these as the root causes of what’s happening within their mind. They’re diagnosing them, putting them on antidepressants and then a few of them even go down that space of understanding these things. I had somebody come to me who was a young girl, put on SSRIs for a long time and birth control pills. She wasn’t told how to wean herself off so she stopped suddenly and she had this rebound serotonin attack, where she had symptoms, which were worse than when she was put on the medication.Even getting a fever is unnecessary. It probably will not happen if there's a balance going on within your body. Click To Tweet
It’s a common story.
We need to bring a whole lot more awareness into looking at physiological root causes of inflammatory markers and deficiencies before we diagnosed somebody with an actual mental health condition. I’m not saying I’m against medication or against somebody being diagnosed. I believe that everybody should get the necessary help in whatever way they can, but I feel that these should be addressed before you go down that route.
You mentioned this strong, negative rebound effect that this young woman had because she went cold turkey off of a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor. This is a common medication to try and improve mood for people. I want to mention that Dr. Peter Breggin, who has been writing about this stuff for decades has a book specifically about how to withdraw from psychiatric medications. One of the key things he talks about is how important it is to be actively reading the specific symptoms of the person you’re working with rather than go by a formula. First, we’ll cut down 5 milligrams and then 5 milligrams and then 5 milligrams and then 10 milligrams to be actively assessing the person and to go ridiculously slow in withdrawing. He has found that essential for some people to avoid that negative rebound effect. You’re calling it that negative impact of stopping one of those psychotropic medicines after a person’s been on it for a period of time.
I must get my hands on that book as well.
It’s highly recommended. I had the honor of interviewing him. He has an episode that you can read for free. What assessment tools do you use to determine if someone has these vitamin deficiencies or these thyroid or hormonal imbalances?
We have a long assessment process. Pre-screening is done with the 30-page long intake form, which is broken up into different endocrine systems. We have questions related to adrenal health, reproductive health, digestion, circulatory system, thyroid, and brain health. There’s first a lot of questions related to it and then we do a two-part screening process where we meet the client and go through a further detailed assessment, talking to them and run a series of serum labs and assess the labs from the perspective of function medicine rather than from some typical range. We provide a client at the end of this two-part assessment with four assessment forms like the blueprint of what’s going on within them and detailed functional lab analysis.
Providing the range for them, giving them a lot of information on what does that mean,s and showing some correlations between different systems. For example, an elevated LDL or triglycerides does not always mean high cholesterol. It can be inflammatory markers and can be related to liver health. At the end of this long assessment session, we have an idea of where to begin. I’m conscious that I don’t walk shot them with anybody. Our program is always eight months because it does take time to tease more information out and work on systems in a systematic and sequential manner so that you get the person to a state. Gently, so baby steps moving forward, rather than shocking somebody into saying, “You need to do all of this study.”
It’s an eight-month program that you work with people. Getting those serum labs back and doing your evaluation, do you then work with a particular pharmacy to get specific compounds developed for the person, or do you prescribe them to go out and get the vitamins the way that most other people would? How does that work?
No. In India, we don’t have the option of creating your compounded nutrients as yet. There was somebody who started that. I found that I couldn’t trust somebody unless you’ve done a lot of work with them. What I do in India is that I have specific brands, which I trust, so I give some recommendations to stay within those and not to go outside of those. There are some excellent brands of nutrients like Pure Encapsulations, which are accessible even in India. I make some recommendations, but I must admit that I’m not a part of any of those. I don’t have any financial aspect there. I give general guidelines for how to choose and what to pick, but I don’t work with somebody myself.
On top of the nutrients, you mentioned that you blend different modalities. What are some of the other modalities that you recommend for people?
That can vary from person-to-person, case-to-case, but as an example, I wrote an article on glymphatic health and using ancient tools for supporting brain health, which was well-received. Dr. Mark Hyman also shared that article. I spoke about how you need to go back to some of our ancient therapies to improve brain function, which includes a weekly oil massage on the head to activate circulation. There’s a therapy called Trataka where you sit down in the darkness and stare at the candle flame until your eyes water profusely, which is related to relieving lymphatic congestion and helps with circulation in the brain.
Also, things like using oil and sitz bath for women’s health and for the challenges with digestion. Immersing the pelvis in some level of heat, so that you’re allowing for any stagnation of lymph in the pelvis to circulate and to improve blood circulation overall. Age-old remedies like enemas, which clients in the US who don’t feel comfortable doing that, then I suggest that they go and do a bit of colon hydrotherapy. Anything to support the body in its own process of detoxification and improvement of circulation.
How do we access the article you wrote on The Brain Health?
Dr. Mark Hyman is well-known for functional medicine. I like to ask people like you who practice in that. For your way of talking about functional medicine, how do you explain that to people? What’s the difference between the traditional medical model that we might find here in America and what you’ve trained in as functional medicine? How do you talk about it?
The easiest way that I explain this to people and I have to keep repeating this several times during our journey together because it does take time to understand. Oftentimes people go back a few months later and they don’t understand why something’s happening. You don’t judge something in this process until the end, because you’re are working system by system sequentially. The easiest way to say is that think of a pebble dropped in water and when it goes down, the mud comes out. If you look at your body as if you’ve thrown a boulder in and the mud is churned up, you can’t see what’s going on. The first thing that you do is to try and recognize what is inflammatory to this person. These could include general inflammatory foods, but it could also be specific inflammatory aspects for different people.
Recognizing this and removing some of this for a while, which is also the process Ayurveda, will use long ago to remove all the heavy to digest foods for a while so that the body comes down, digestion is eased, and then you know what’s going. I’m not saying that’s the ultimate way of healing. That’s just the stepping stone to start to understand what’s going on on a deeper level. You remove all that’s inflammatory. One of the things that I speak a lot about because of my connection to my son’s adrenal disorder is that stress plays such a massive role and there’s nothing as inflammatory as stress. If somebody is doing everything possible, the best diet, they’ve got the best nutrients to support, but they’re in a toxic environment or they’re not giving themselves enough space for lowering stress and improving their resilience to stress, that is major prevention towards healing.
First, it’s removing all these inflammatory aspects, including stress, and then seeing what you are deficient in. When we look at that, it’s not just about serum blood markers and prescribing nutrients. You could be deficient in calmness. You could be deficient in having time for yourself and sleep, which is inflammatory. Removing what’s inflammatory, seeing what is this person lacking and trying to restore some of that balance to it, and then starting to see ones you’ve removed everything that’s potentially inflammatory, is the person still showing signs?
I don’t see a lot of practitioners talking about this. In the last several years, I worked with several people who have turned out to be histamine intolerant, and elevated histamine plays a huge role in anxiety. There was this one woman who had skin issues and anxiety. She had tried everything. She had spent much money on skin treatments and it was as simple as removing histamine foods and her anxiety went down., her sleep was restored and her skin healed.
As you were talking about things that might be missing or low, where I might be deficient in something, my mind started to click through with a sense of connection and sense of purpose in life.
Talking about that, it is the biggest issue in several years in my previous marriage because it was lacking in connection. I was in a space of fear and not feeling safe and nothing would help. I must have been through antibiotics 3, 4 times every year and I was always sick. I’ve written extensively also on this antagonistic relationship between cortisol and oxytocin. If cortisol is elevated, oxytocin drops. If you’re exposed to oxytocin, cortisol drops. Therefore, if you are in a situation, which is spiking cortisol and you lack oxytocin, then you’re going to be inflammatory.
At the same time, if you are in space, nurturing a community and you’re raising oxytocin, then oxytocin elevation drops cortisol down. In oxytocin elevation, I don’t want somebody to think that if they are in this space where they don’t have somebody who makes them feel safe or loved that they can’t heal. I also found that if somebody is in a space like that and they have access to some of this ancient tool, there’s research that’s shown that massaging the whole body raises oxytocin and lowers cortisol.
As you’re talking about many wonderful ancient techniques that look at the physical body in ways to stimulate it and nurture it and support it. There’s also a lot of ancient and they’ve been integrated into the recognition of the more modern technique of how we can work with the internal, mental, and emotional process and help people understand how, even though they haven’t been trained to understand this or taught, they’re creating their experience of life. If we can empower them to understand that and give them some tools for creating it differently, then it starts to work together with that physical adjustment and balance in the system and everything starts to work better. A functional medicine approach is a systemic approach and the integration of various systems that need to be in balance. You’ve mentioned yoga, is that a part of your personal practice? Is that something you recommend regularly for people?
Yes. It’s been several years of teaching. That journey was what kept me physically sane through a bad marriage, but it also was a way to support myself financially. I do recommend, even when I see somebody with several issues, lymphatic issues, immune system, the first thing that I say, “Before you do anything else, try and bring in a daily yoga practice because it is wonderful to improve digestion, to circulate the lymph and therefore improve your immune function. It helps you with detoxification, lower the stress response, reduce cortisol and keep you in a state of calmness.”There's nothing as inflammatory as stress. Click To Tweet
I used to joke about this several years ago to a group full of women. I would tell them, “If you ever have an argument with your spouse, don’t respond right away, go put your yoga mat out there and do an hour of practice.” It’s amazing how suddenly your perspective shifts and you’re thinking differently. You’re no longer reacting from a space of negative lashing out, but instead, you’re able to differentiate between the message and the messenger so things don’t become as unpleasant.
I’m not saying that’s denial. I’m saying that you get yourself away from a space where you feel overwhelmed. That one hour of your practice can make you think differently. I would advise this, even if you are taking a big decision about something, that space after yoga when you’re sitting in that silent space of meditation, which naturally gets induced in your mind after a yoga practice, it’s a great time for you to be looking at life-altering decisions. Taking them from a context where you feel calmness, where you feel whole and it’s being guided from a space, which is free of confusion and anything which is preventing the right decision.
The next thing I want to ask you to talk about is you’ve talked about having a sleep soul sister and this specialty you have related to sleep. Talk to us about that. What prompted that and what interventions do you find most useful for people around sleep problems?
In the space of functional nutrition, there was a lot of talk about finding your niche. I went against that for a long time. I said, “I don’t want to become boxed into this space. I want to be able to help everybody.” Along the way, I started to find that it does help when you have a niche because, for one, your mind is not fragmented. You start to bring focus into one space and that made a world of difference. The reason I got into that space of sleep was that I had chronic sleep challenges right through the space of a bad marriage because I wouldn’t feel safe in my own home. I would be awake the whole night. I thought I was fine. When somebody is in a situation like that, they’ve got this spike of adrenaline and that keeps them going.
It’s not like they don’t have the energy to go, but you also don’t realize that it has long-term detrimental effects. It raises inflammation and it makes you sick. It makes you dull. There were many that I couldn’t understand. There were friends around me who were popping sleeping pills and they used to tell me, “I’ve been taking this for five years. Nothing has happened to me,” but they had many health challenges. I didn’t want to go down that route of sleeping medications. I started to go into it deeper and went into this focused area of sleep. I don’t know if you heard about the Broken Brain podcast by Dhru Purohit, Dhru is Dr. Hyman’s business partner. Dhru, on a call with me he said, “You should start a podcast on sleep.” To me, it was as if the universe spoke through Dhru. It was almost as if a button was switched on. The moment he said that, everything fell into place. A few days after that, I found a producer in the US and we got started with the Sleep Whisperer Podcast. The extent of knowledge that has come through the podcast through many experts all over the world, that’s a beautiful space and the world needs more sleep warriors or sleep soul sisters.
The sleep soul sister is a joke between Dr. Aarti Soorya and there’s one more of us called Dr. Nishi Bhopal, who’s in the US. She’s an integrative psychiatrist. We started to joke, “I like the sleep soul sisters, we’re all working towards this passionate area of sleep.” We started this little informal group where we ask each other for advice when we’re putting together programs, or we feel that we can do a lot more for the world in terms of sleep. We are walking from a space of collaboration and support for other experts in the same field versus a feeling of competition. When we come together, we can do a whole lot more.
I’m looking forward to being able to interview Dr. Bhopal. How do we direct people to find your sleep podcast?
It’s the Sleep Whisperer Podcast, available on all podcast apps. If you put a search, Sleep Whisperer Podcast, it’s a black logo with the bright blue logo of a sleeping moon.
I will look into that and I’m grateful to have that as a resource. It is amazing when you start to interview people, the synergy that can get going. What’s an area of your work that I haven’t even asked you about that you want to make sure we share with the readers about?
We’ve spoken about the main areas, which are women’s health and sleep. I do a lot of work with adrenal function because of my understanding of adrenals. There’s a lot being spoken everywhere about adrenal fatigue. I have a whole lot more to say about that, but that’s a long subject. Adrenal function is at the core of a lot of other conditions and anxiety. When I hear anxiety, I’m immediately taken to adrenal function. Adrenal function can be disruptive for many people because of what they are putting on themselves, restrictive diets, low-calorie diets, not eating enough, not eating on time if they are not adapted to fasting, high periods of stress where the adrenals are tired of pumping out cortisol or lack of sleep.
With your holistic approach to that or the functional medicine approach to that, is there a specific key for people with that adrenal problem that helps drop it down a few notches like a simple general rule you could apply to people?
One of the things that I advise people and it’s safe for most people to do which lowers cortisol and the stress response almost in a few hours is sitting in a bathtub of cold water versus a hot tub. Sometimes if somebody sits in a tub of cold water, I’m not saying do this in freezing cold Boston or something like that. If you’re in a space where it’s not excessively cold and you can sit for half an hour in a tub of cold water with a bit of boiled tea to lower inflammation and you stay there for about half an hour. I’ve found that it drops cortisol and it lowers that stress response and then you are in a state of being able to make better decisions with other bigger interventions.
I would also say not having a restrictive diet. If you’re in this period of high stress and adrenal dysfunction, you don’t want to be doing something like jumping into a five day fast or going down a diet like the ketogenic diet, which may be excellent for therapeutic reasons in certain aspects, but not when you’re in that state of stress. Begin with eating balanced meals where your plate can look as if there’s adequate fat, fiber, protein and calories. My mantra is always fat, fiber, protein, and calories. Build your plate. Start the plate with three different non-starchy colored vegetables and then add your protein, fat, and some complex fiber. It’s not necessarily green. It could be sweet potatoes but having balance in your meals and sitting in a cool tub can be great ways to lower the stress response in a few days.
Thank you for taking the time. I know it’s quite a challenge. You’re doing it from your car. I appreciate you putting yourself out that way and sharing your information with us. We will send people to Phytothrive and I look forward to following your work.
Thank you. It was a pleasure chatting with you. Time flew by. I know it’s late in the night for you. It’s time that you should go to bed and get some sleep.
I will do that. I’ll be doing some good self-care. I’ll take some advice from you and get some balance in my life after this. I appreciate your taking the time and working with me through the big time difference. It’s an honor to meet you and thank you for the work you’re doing.
Deepa Kannan is a Yoga Acharya for over two decades, a functional nutritionist, and a Certified Food & Spirit Practitioner. She brings together two decades of her experience in therapeutic & transformational Yoga and deep learning in Functional Medicine Nutrition to her practice in Phytothrive. Functional Medicine has been listed as the number one trend for 2019 by Forbes Magazine and is at the forefront of cutting-edge healthcare now. Phytothrive focuses on merging together the deep rationality of the functional medicine world with the deep symbolism of yoga and ancient wisdom.If you are in a situation that is spiking cortisol and you lack oxytocin, then you're going to be inflammatory. Click To Tweet
Deepa brings together the masterful understanding of human anatomy with a cohesive understanding of physiology to offer what can be classified as true bio-individual mind, body, and spirit nutrition. Deepa has articles shared by Dr. Mark Hyman, MD, a thirteen-times New York Times Bestselling Author. She’s done opening speech on Health Hacks at Amazon Web Services and Your Story Health Tech in 2019. She’s hosted an interview with Dr. Deanna Minich, a six-time author, and Jessica Drummond, Founder of the Integrative Women’s Health Institute. She’s a writer for health articles on YourStory Media. Deepa is the Host of the Sleep Whisperer Podcast with guests from around the world. Dr. Mark Hyman says of her, “My friend, Deepa Kannan, explains the best ancient tools accessible to most of us at home to help support our glymphatic system.”
- Sleep Whisperer Podcast
- book – Psychiatric Drug Withdrawal book
- Dr. Mark Hyman – Facebook Page
- Broken Brain podcast
- Integrative Women’s Health Institute
- Deepa Kannan
- Episode – Previous episode with Dr. Peter Breggin
- Pure Encapsulations
- Article – Supporting Brain Health With Ancient Tools
- YourStory Media – Deepa Kannan
About Deepa Kannan
Deepa Kannan is a Yoga Acharya for over two decades, a Functional Nutritionist, and a Certified Food & Spirit Practitioner.
She brings together two decades of her experience in therapeutic & transformational Yoga and deep learning in Functional Medicine Nutrition to her practice Phytothrive.
Functional Medicine has been listed as the No.1 trend for 2019 by Forbes magazine and is at the forefront of cutting edge healthcare today. Phytothrive focuses on merging together the deep rationality of the Functional Medicine world with the deep symbolism of Yoga and Ancient Wisdom.
Deepa brings together the masterful understanding of human anatomy with a cohesive understanding of Physiology to offer what can be classified as true bio-individual mind, body & spirit nutrition.
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