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Low Tox Living With Dr Vivian Chen
"Our health destiny is in our hands and I want to empower you to take back your health and live the energetic, vibrant life you deserve." —Dr. Vivian Chen
Because we all know that beauty is more than skin (or scalp, hehe) deep and we're all about a holistic and 360 approach to health, wellness, and haircare, we're so excited to share our chat with Dr Vivian Chen. She is a wealth of knowledge and her content and advice is an endless source of inspo, not to mention - we're honored to call her a loyal longtime EVOLVher. Read on for her "aha" moment, seasonal food recommendations, favorite EVOLVh products (naturally), and oh so much more.
How did you get your start in the medical field and what inspired you to look towards food as medicine?
I always knew I wanted to be a doctor from a very early age. It sounds cliché, but I wanted to help people who are suffering. I also enjoyed science and so medicine naturally made sense to me as a career choice. I went to medical school at University of London in the UK, then did a residency in internal medicine followed by family practice. During my 15 years of clinical practice, I gradually became more disillusioned when I realized my patients were coming back to me with more and more chronic illnesses for which the solution in conventional medicine was always another prescription. I started to feel like I wasn't truly getting to the root cause of their health challenges because a patient would go from 1 prescription to 5 or 10 in a few years.
The crunch moment came when I had my daughter and she was hospitalized aged 8 weeks because she stopped feeding. No doctor, including myself, knew what was wrong with her. She had to be fed via a tube from her nose into her stomach. I felt as if I had failed her as a mother AND a doctor, and I still have a lump in my throat when I think back to that very dark time. After delving into the research, I realized that she had a Cow's Milk Protein Allergy and when we switched her milk (I was breastfeeding her, and she was getting cow's milk protein from the dairy I was consuming), she got better.
After she got better, I started to wonder what else I needed to learn in order to help my patients. I started to dive into nutrition and lifestyle medicine and realized that at the root of so many chronic diseases were lifestyle factors like our diet, stress, toxicity, lack of sleep, and so on. As they say, genetics load the gun, but lifestyle pulls the trigger. So when I moved from the UK to California, I decided not to get an MD license in the US, but instead to coach clients back to health using these lifestyle modalities. It has been super rewarding because I finally feel like I am helping people make lasting improvements in their health rather than band-aiding over problems.
Can you share any particularly great foods or recipes for boosting hair and/or skin health?
A balanced diet rich in fiber, antioxidants from fruits and veggies, and vitamin C should be the foundation of a skin/hair promoting diet, in my opinion. Lots of people hone in on things like collagen when they haven't even worked on the basics. There is a connection between our gut health and our hormones, which then in turn affect our skin and hair health.
A key to good gut health is avoiding environmental toxins and nourishing the gut microbiome with lots of fiber and antioxidants. So this is why I love a polyphenol and fiber-rich diet. Vitamin E, healthy fats like omega3s, magnesium, iron, zinc, and beta carotene are also important - so I like to incorporate plenty of nuts, seeds, and avocados in addition to fruits and veggies. Adequate protein is important, but of course, without good gut health, you may be eating plenty of protein but not absorbing it - so working on gut health is a key step.
Earth Month is just around the corner - what are some of your favorite eco-friendly products/tips?
I love my Earth Junky organic cotton grocery bags - these replace the need for single-use plastic bags I would otherwise be using for produce when I go grocery shopping. I always have a foldable reusable bag with me in my handbag. Also, switching to stainless steel water bottles and carrying one with me/refilling it instead of buying water in plastic bottles. I also like to make my own nut milk at home (so easy, better for you, and no packaging), and try to avoid plastic when I can (I know it's not always possible).
Do you change your wellness routine seasonally? If so, how do you adjust for spring and do you have a favorite spring recipe?
Yes, I love to observe what nature is telling us. I truly believe that we are one with our planet, and so I try to follow the seasons with my wellness/food choices.
Spring is a time of renewal and in Traditional Chinese Medicine, is the 'liver season'. Our liver performs over 400 functions, one of the most important ones is detoxification. And isn't it funny that spring is also a time we 'spring clean'? Well, our body is also spring cleaning as the liver kicks up a gear and this is a great time to support that. At this time, nature provides us with food that nourishes the liver and aids detoxification, like asparagus, lots of green leafy vegetables, radishes, and beets.
The best way to know the most nourishing food for your body for each season is to shop at the farmer's market - because this is almost always the produce that is in season, that nature intends for us to eat. I love a colorful spring salad and also a beet "poké" made from diced cooked beets, coconut aminos, and sesame oil.
If someone wanted to take their very first step towards holistic wellness, but didn't know where to start - how would you encourage them to begin?
The lowest hanging fruits generally are to reduce the intake of processed food, refined sugar, and to incorporate more veggies. Eat whole, real food your grandmother would recognize as food. I am also a big believer in learning to read ingredient labels. We need to be advocates for ourselves in terms of looking for safer and better products because the regulations we think are there to protect us don't in terms of the safety of consumer products.
A shampoo that is allowed on the market can contain chemicals linked to lower fertility, cancer, type 2 diabetes, behavior problems in children (just to name a few) - so I'm a big proponent of taking steps towards switching to non-toxic products when your circumstances allow. This can be an overwhelming area, so take your time, make one switch at a time, and over time the changes can be really transformative. Some resources I like are the EWG Skin Deep database, the Think Dirty app, and Made Safe.
Are there any specific changes you've made to your lifestyle that you feel have made the most drastic difference?
Without a doubt reducing my toxic exposures and supporting my detox organs with the nourishment they need. I had a high toxicity load and had constant migraines, insomnia, acne, anxiety, was always exhausted, and lived on coffee during the day then wine to relax in the evenings. All my labs were normal so my doctors told me these were 'normal' and there was nothing wrong with me. However, when I 'cleaned up my act' so to speak, all those problems went away.
If you could gift a beginner to wellness with a starter kit - which products would you include?
EVOLVh of course!! Other than that, I would gift them water and an air filter to start, and then direct them to the free resources on my site to get them started on the non-toxic living journey.
What has been the most rewarding part of helping others discover wellness and low tox living?
Seeing the transformations has been so rewarding and heart warming. I have shed so many happy tears with my clients along the way. I've seen women suffering with PCOS get their menstrual cycle and fertility back, people normalize their blood sugar, blood pressure, cholesterol, better mood, sleep.
Lastly, let's talk haircare! What are you go-to EVOLVh products and what do you love about them?
I love them all! But if I had to pick - the UltraShine Shampoo & Conditioner, and I also use UltraRepair as a mask twice a month to give my hair some extra TLC. The SuperFinish Polishing Balm makes my hair SO shiny and I also love the UltraFlex Hair Spray for keeping any styles in place.