Dr. Rav James is known as the “sugar eliminator” to her many patients seeking to reverse disease and optimise their healthspan. The founder of one of the Lowveld’s first Functional Medicine practices and co-founder of Hanya House Wellness Collaboration takes a root-cause approach to healing, focusing on food, sleep, and movement and, contrary to what happens in much of the integrative health world, advises new patients to stop most of the dozens of supplements they’re taking every day.

“Pill burden is a big problem,” says Dr. Rav. “And then there’s the clever marketing of companies and how it’s become trendy to have all the latest bio hacks lined up on your kitchen shelf. People think that they can ‘out-supplement’ their problems without dealing with the root cause. In the long-term, it’s a waste of money.”

So, what approach should we be taking to supplementation and how does Dr. Rav, a functional medicine specialist, supplement for her own health?

She thrives with a lifestyle first approach

“We shouldn’t have to supplement to achieve good health. If there is a symptom then we can treat it with supplements while we are simultaneously trying to identify the root-cause of the problem, and this is a great tool. But most people do not eat properly, sleep properly, move properly, or play properly. These are the hard things we have to face head on if we care about our long-term health. So while you may be curious about supplements as you browse online or scroll through Instagram, try using that time to keep a lifestyle journal where you can be reflective about how you are living. This may seem onerous, but reflections are invaluable and free.”

She feels, and is curious about, what support her body is asking for

“In recent months I’ve struggled with more pre-menstrual tension than usual. In response to this I’ve tried a new supplement called MetaRelax because I’ve done a lot of research on the unique combination of magnesium glycinate and taurine for its calming effect. It was my best cycle in years. But, in the last three months, I’ve also increased my complex carbohydrate intake and stopped intermittent fasting. I have a strong suspicion – based on my research – that both of those were having a big effect. So my plan is not to take MetaRelax forever. Rather my plan is to support myself as I find my unique root causes of bad PMS. Another trick of mine is to sense when period cramps are coming and immediately take two good quality omega 3’s. These immediately support my body’s anti-inflammatory response and relieve any cramping.” (To read more about supplementation for women’s health, click here).

She knows the *chinks* in her body’s armour

I know I have a high susceptibility to anxiety WHEN there is higher than usual pressure and not enough downtime. I think as doctors we take on a big responsibility and there are times when you have patients who are very sick and you worry A LOT. Add life and kids and extended family and school to that and there will inevitably be periods of higher stress load. I’ve found that Switch by Neurologica (a blend of theanine, magnesium glycinate, lemon balm, ashwagandha and sceletium) supports my nervous system during these periods and I have it on hand but I don’t take it for more than a couple of weeks. During those weeks I increase my exercise, my time in nature and I drink less alcohol. Another good example is allergies. If you know that you get bad allergies during a certain time of the year, then supplements like quercetin and omega 3 may help to relieve symptoms at the time.”

She doesn’t try to “out-supplement” stress

“When it comes to stress, times of support or treatment are great, but my priority is to make sure I can recover, not chronically out-supplement the stress. A recent example is a patient who has a genetic variation that requires more B vitamins than usual, particularly when he is under high pressure. During those periods the body’s demand for B vitamins is higher, but, contrary to what he believed, he doesn’t need to take them forever. The supplementation helped him to rebalance and recover. Once back in balance, his diet is good and I’m working with him to guide him on how to get slightly more B vitamins from his diet than what most people need.”   

She supplements with the stuff that is harder to get on a daily basis

“I would never supplement with vitamin C on a daily basis because there are so many easy and available food sources where I can get my daily allowance and I prefer to take the natural approach as much as I can. But phytonutrients, full of antioxidants and flavonoids, are harder to find daily. I’m talking about extracts from blueberries, pomegranate, beetroot, green tea, and milk thistle. The biology needs these nutrients. Athletic Greens have been popular in the US for a while and so I found PhytoGanix® as an equivalent here in South Africa. I have it about three times per week to supplement my diet.

She cycles her supplementation

“Medicinal mushrooms are a specialised food form that don’t feature in most people’s regular diets. I make a miso soup every week with seaweed and various mushrooms – lots of them. But there are times where I want to boost either my immunity or my mental focus, and I’ll cycle through a period of supplementing with a particular mushroom or a mushroom blend. I’m careful with the mushrooms because sometimes they over-stimulate me or give me the wrong kind of energy, so there is a process of trial and error and knowing when my body is ready for them.”

With her patients, she supplements to treat

“There are often new patients who walk into my office with 15 bottles of supplements. There are very few cases where I think this is a necessity and – if the patient is willing – I enjoy walking a journey back to natural balance with them. A recent example: A patient with undiagnosed leaky gut who was taking all kinds of supplements based on her own research. We first remove the cause, usually dairy, gluten and sugar. Then I’ll recommend a well-researched treatment based on a blend of l-glutamine, vitamin C powder, and omega 3 for a time. Not forever. During the time that the patient is taking the supplemental support, I’m coaching on lifestyle changes – appropriate for that patient – that will ensure a healthy gut even when we stop the supplements.

Another example is a CEO who is overworked, anxious and struggling to turn her mind off. We used Cortisol Balance (based again on the well researched combination of Relora® and Sensoril®) for six weeks to help her through a very busy time and then, as things became more manageable, we started to unpack everything from her perimenopausal symptoms to DNA quirks that may be contributing to her feeling of overwhelm. We also started working with some of my colleagues at Hanya House to give her tools to climb out of continual sympathetic nervous system response.”

Dr. Rav is currently taking:

MetaRelax, for PMS support

PhytoGanix, for phytonutrients

Creatine, for muscle recovery and support

In the last few months she has also cycled:

Switch, for anxiety

Omega 3s*, for anti-inflammatory support

Protein, when she needs a break from eggs and tuna 😉

*With omega 3’s there are lots of products available where the recommended dosage will have little to no effect. Please chat to us about the DHA and EPA of your omega 3s.