Autoimmune Disease, Trauma, and Toxins: An Interview with Katie Wells

Autoimmune Disease, Trauma, and Toxins: An Interview with Katie Wells

What follows is a transcript for the podcast: How To Overcome Mom Stress: Managing Your Household, Health and Finding Inner Peace.

Topics include the following:

  1. The Founding Story of Wellness Mama
  2. Katie Wells Upcoming Book:  Zen And The Art Of Dirty Dishes
  3. How Does Releasing Trauma Affect Physical Health?
  4. How Can You Successfully Overcome Mental and Physical Trauma?
  5. What is the “Wellnesse” Personal Care Line All About?
  6. Reducing the Toxic Burden in Our Homes
  7. Tips for Meal Planning
  8. Are Infrared or Traditional Saunas Better?
  9. What’s Next For Wellness Mama?
  10. About Katie Wells

The Founding Story of Wellness Mama

Dr. Heather Sandison: Welcome to Collective Insights. I'm your host today, Dr. Heather Sandison. And I am delighted to be joined by Katie Wells today from Wellness Mama and Wellnesse. Katie, thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us here at Neurohacker.

Katie Wells: I am excited to chat. I use some of your guys' products and excited to chat with you today.

Dr. Heather Sandison: So it was so much fun. You hosted me on your podcast, and now I'm getting to return the favor and have you here. And you have so many incredible things going on on your end with your personal care product line. Of course, the blog that you've been doing for over a decade at this point. The books that you're writing. So many amazing, you have experiments going on that you're going to publish. So many really cool things going on. So we have so much to discuss today. I wanted to start just talking about how you started down this path. What inspired you to do this?

Katie Wells: Yeah, it has been a journey for sure. It started about 13 years ago. I had always been a very driven type A personality. And I joked that I did everything early, which I hope means I'm not going to die early. But I had finished college at 19 and gotten married and was pregnant with my first child. And throughout high school and college, I was pretty much one of those people that was in every activity. And if I made a 98, it was a failure. If it wasn't 100, like extremely driven. And in college that intensified and I was living on just coffee and whatever food I could eat while studying. And looking back, I joke with people if you want to create autoimmune disease, that's the perfect way to do it. To have a lot of stress, eat terrible food, and don't sleep. But I didn't know I was doing that at the time.

It went until I got pregnant. It was kind of the straw that broke the camel's back and started to throw things into kind of a spiral. And I started noticing symptoms even with my first pregnancy that I assumed were just normal for pregnancy, having never been pregnant before. So that was kind of going on in the background.

And then the real catalyst was that when my oldest was born and I was sitting in the doctor's office after giving birth, that six week followup appointment, I read in TIME Magazine that for the first time in two centuries, the current generation of American children would have a shorter life expectancy than their parents. And being very hormonal first time mom with a newborn, that just hit me so hard. I was holding a nursing this tiny baby. And to read that all the things that his generation was going to face, it kind of lit this fire in me. And I joked that that was my hold my beer moment when I said, "No, this is not happening. There's got to be a better way, not just for my kids, but for all of these kids that they deserve better." So I had no idea at the time how I would try to solve that problem for my own kids or to help others. But it lit a really strong fire in me to do that.

And my background was in journalism, and all I knew was research. So I started turning to research both in the broad sense for these, what we were seeing as health trends. But also for my own health, as things continued to get worse. And I just started noticing more and more symptoms. I kept thinking there has to be a cause of this. And I would be told by doctors for a really long time that my levels were normal and everything was fine. And I knew something wasn't right. So that kind of led into this really intensive research phase for me. And I started documenting what I was learning on just as to have a place to kind of compile research and to hopefully share it with other moms as I learned things. Because I realized if this was something we could reverse, it would take much more than just me. It would take a lot of us all on the same page. So that was kind of the initial spark that started it all.

Katie's Upcoming Book: Zen and The Art of Dirty Dishes

Dr. Heather Sandison: And so now here you are 13 years later and I want to talk about some of the exciting projects you're working on right now. So you have a new book coming out that you're working on, Zen and the Art of Dirty Dishes. I love that. It totally crystallizes this being a mom, right? That we're trying to do so much. Maintain sanity and make sure that the dishes are washed. Right? So tell me a little bit about what inspired that and what you're hoping to communicate with moms out there.

Katie Wells: Yeah. This really stems from the idea that women, we're finding out when we see in the news, have so many amazing opportunities right now. And in the business world, the playing field is starting to level and many women are involved in business in many different ways or have careers, which is wonderful. But the flip side of that is as women, we're not able to let go of the emotional responsibility that comes with our families, nor would we want to. Those are at least to me very important core things in my life. So instead, we have to learn how to balance all of these things.

But I recognize this growing trend in women. And I saw it in myself in a very dramatic way. That we have for a couple of generations, been adding things to our plate, but not taking anything off. So as women now, we're juggling all these things constantly. We have all these open loops, and we are still the emotional kind of spearhead for our family. And we're also still now operating in business and taking on all of these other projects.

And where this really came to a head for me was a few years ago when I reached a point of just complete overwhelm and burnout. And in hindsight, probably very close to a nervous breakdown. And I just hit a point where I was like, I can't do it all anymore. I can't keep up with the business, and the house, and the kids, and the homeschooling. It's just too much. I'm at the end of my rope. And I think every mom has maybe had that day where you just are so exhausted and you're like, "I can't do this one more day." But you realize I'm going to get up tomorrow and I'm going to do it again. And the day after that, and the day after that.

But for me, I was so overwhelmed and exhausted that I came extremely close to deleting the blog, deleting Wellness Mama, and walking away. Because I knew I couldn't let my family slip through the cracks. They were the first priority. So if something had to give, it had to be that. And in moment of clarity at that point, I realized wait a second, I'm not stressed at all in the work side. I am extremely stressed all the time at home. Why is that? And I started really digging and realized that when it came to work, I ran everything with systems. We had objectives. We had key results we were working towards, we knew what the goals and the timelines were. Things had slotted times, there were scheduled meetings. We knew when things were going to happen. And as a team, we were all working toward a common goal.

Whereas at home, I was trying to manage everything for eight people in my head all the time, cook dinner every day. And all of these other factors. And I thought, what if I started running my personal life, my household, as if I were the CEO? And stop trying to do it all myself. Because I had a several year experiment in business with that where I would hire people and not let them do anything. And I realized very quickly that was a poor system. So I was like what if I applied these same things at home and benefited from having direction, having key objectives, and defining where we were going so that I could reduce the stress?

I'm a big believer in the 80/20 principle that 80% of results come from 20% of input. And vice versa, that 80% of stress typically comes from 20% of stressors. So I started kind of applying that to every area of personal life from the health and fitness side, to the parenting side, to the household management side, and even to prioritizing relationships. Because I'm a big believer that community is one of the more important things we can do for our lives and for our health. And it drastically changed my life, my household, my kids' happiness, my husband's happiness, everything within a few weeks. And most importantly, I was able to let go of the stress. And I was able to close a lot of those open loops and reduce the decision fatigue.

Because I think a lot of us by 4:00 PM, we hit that point of what am I going to cook for dinner? I've already answered a million questions today. I am just done. And I just want to drink wine and hide in the closet. So what if we could solve those variables and not hit that point? And what if we could be present, and be calm, and be happy, and be fulfilled? And when our kids go to bed, actually still have bandwidth for ourselves. Because as women often, we are everything for everybody else except for ourselves. So this was me learning how to operate my personal life with the same intentionality that I would operate a business, which to me is also a sign of respect for my family. Because they're more important than any business will ever be. So why would I not have the same goals and intentions and clear ideas of what I want to impart to my kids before they leave and skills I want to make sure they have? Why would I not do that with my personal life as well? 

How Does Releasing Trauma Affect Physical Health?

Dr. Heather Sandison: Of course, so much of your business, businesses, it's a reflection of your personal story and what you found meaningful. And so many other moms and women relate to that. Tell me a little bit more about the internal trauma process that you've been through over the last couple of years, and what you've learned.

Katie Wells: This has been very much a long journey. And I think in some ways, one that we are always all still going to be on. I don't think we ever arrive. And I think that some of the beauty of life is that there's always a journey. But it started for me, like I mentioned in the beginning, 13 years ago with the health side. And I would find things that seemed to help a little bit. And I would write about those because it gave me a little glimmer of hope. And I wanted to share anything that could help someone else. But I think early on, because I was so sick and so looking for answers, I was much more dogmatic about those health things. So I've actually enlightened up a lot on being as stringent on the health side. And I very much believe that that is personalized and individualized. And when it comes strictly to the physical health side, we all have to be responsible for doing our own experimentation and finding out what works, and being partners in our health. Not just trying to outsource that to our doctors. Because from the physical side, it wasn't until I started really taking complete ownership for that, that I really started seeing results.

But the huge breakthrough moment for me came in the last couple of years. So I had been eating an extremely clean diet, very low inflammation diet for a lot of years. I knew all the stuff to do from the research. I knew what to eat. I knew how to exercise. I had optimized my sleep. I was taking all the supplements. I was getting the sunshine. All the things that we know to do from the health perspective.

And I would see mild improvements, but I still had some of these lingering symptoms. And I still wasn't able to lose weight. And for awhile, I kind of wrote those things off as like, "Well, I have had six babies in nine years." That's a factor. I have Hashimoto's, that's a factor. I have all the genes not in my favor when it comes to obesity. But it was something that bothered me a lot. And I realized I was spending so much mental energy just caught up in this body image and all the things I didn't like about myself. And it really hit home for me one day when my daughter who was, I think about 10 at the time. I noticed her noticing me be critical of my body in the mirror. And I realized I don't want to pass on this prison of the mind that I have lived in for most of my adult life to my daughters. I don't want them to look at their body as a deficiency or to see their flaws. I want them to realize how incredible their bodies are. But how can I teach that if I don't believe it?

So I made a vow at that point that I would do whatever it took to find the inner peace in that and to stop being critical of my body. And for me, part of that was working through some pretty severe trauma that happened in high school that I thought I had somewhat dealt with because it wasn't something I thought about daily. I kind of pushed it away. And I realized as I started kind of working through this, that it was still very much a part of my life. But building the walls because of that, it was what was keeping me safe mentally. My brain was keeping me safe, but it was also trying to keep me safe physically. And that was part of the component of me for the extra weight and all of the things I was still struggling with.

So that began a year long journey into releasing trauma, working with all kinds of different practitioners, and different breakthrough moments along the way. And I remember a couple in particular, since that point in high school, I had shut down emotions. I had basically made a conscious decision in that moment. "I will never be hurt again. And I will never let myself feel that kind of pain again." So I had just built all these walls and stop feeling emotions.

The good part of that was I never yelled at my kids because I didn't have emotions. I didn't get angry. But the bad part of that was I was holding all of that in. So one of the therapists actually had me do rage therapy. And she'd be like, "Just yell. I want you to yell." And I'm like, "I can't do that. I don't yell, I don't get angry." And when I finally did, it was like 16 years of emotions just broke out of my chest. And I shook and I cried.

And then another one where I was doing bodywork. So I was doing a mixture of Rolfing and kind of this acrobatic yoga approach. And I was so freaked out because I wasn't in control. I wasn't on the ground. And all my control issues started bubbling up, and I experienced the trauma in my mind. Again, it sent me into a full out like hyperventilating state. And I re-experienced the trauma. And then afterward, I shook for two hours. Almost like you would shake after having a baby, or how an animal would shake after being almost killed, all that adrenaline that I had never processed, just came flooding out.

And in the months following that, it was amazing because I actually started eating a lot more food. I was actually hungry again. And I started losing a lot of weight. And I realized you can read the studies or you can hear people talk about the mind body connection. And I read a book called The Body Keeps the Score that was really, really influential for me. But you can read all of that, but you don't really realize it until you experience something in yourself. But it was just so drastic because I wasn't changing diet or lifestyle factors. I changed the inner side. And all the physical stuff just kind of fell into place.

And it completely changed my relationship with my body. And I was able to, instead of looking in the mirror and seeing all the things I didn't like, I was able to start appreciating the things about my body and viewing it as a tool, that amazing machine that could do all these things that had grown six humans from scratch. And I appreciate those things. And it completely changed my inner voice and how I related to myself. And it's again, always a journey. But I think I'm in a much healthier place to work with my daughters now that we're about to enter the teenage years with the girls. And I'm hopeful that that will help them enter those years with a big appreciation for their body instead of looking at their flaws.

Dr. Heather Sandison: Clinically, I see this play out over, and over, and over again. We can address the lab numbers, and we can talk about diet, and we can talk about sleep. We can talk about those foundational pieces all day long. We can add supplements galore. But if we are not talking to ourselves in a healthy way, then disease is going to persist. So going back to that neurological programming, and what is the signal that our cells are getting from our brains? Whether it's conscious or not, right? And especially in early childhood trauma, and you have teenage trauma. These things can just become habitual, and we don't even realize they're there.

So clinically, I think that what you're describing is so relevant. And a lot of people are really driven to hang on to this. "If I just tweak this supplement, then something will shift and I'll be 100% healthy." And I can't emphasize enough how much I agree with you as a clinician. This is essential to full health and healing. And it's inspiring to hear you say that a lot of your inspiration to do this. This is hard work, right? It comes from something bigger than yourself. It's what happens to your girls.

Katie Wells: Exactly. I've heard it said that we don't change until the pain of staying the same becomes greater than the pain of changing. And I think my daughters, it was that for me. But I also think like you said, it is a journey. And I think we don't realize until we get there, just how powerful those mental questions are. Both in the practical side. I think the questions we ask ourselves are extremely important. So I used to internally ask myself questions like, "Well, why can't I lose weight? Why is this so hard?" And I would try to fight my body into, "I'll just be more rigid with diet. I'll just exercise more." And those things don't work. Because when you ask your mind, "Why can't I lose weight?" It's going to answer you. And it's going to say, "It's because you have thyroid disease and because you've had six kids. And because, because, because, because."

And I found this quote that made me really cry at one point during the journey that said, "I said to my body for the first time I want to be your friend and my body replied, 'I've been waiting my whole life for this.'" And it just made me realize, I had been fighting my body and shaming this amazing thing, the only body I'm ever going to get, trying to force it into submission. When really all it took was learning to take a deep breath and work with it versus always fighting.

How Can You Successfully Overcome Mental and Physical Trauma?

Dr. Heather Sandison: And the other point you made very eloquently was how you worked with a lot of different providers and a lot of different, I'm sure you read a bunch of books. It wasn't one single thing. It was what I see sometimes is we spend a lot of time for the setup, and then it all happens in an instant, right? It's like you read three or four books. And then all of a sudden someone shares a quote, and it all clicks together. And there's an experience of that feeling versus just hearing it said or reading it written by other people. So that persistence that it's not going to happen the first book you read, or it's not going to happen with the first massage therapist or Bowen provider or whatever, whoever it is that you're reaching out to for help. It's not necessarily going to click immediately. But if you persist and if you're committed to the process, then eventually it does.

Katie Wells: Absolutely. And I think you're right. I think in some ways, I think a lot of things probably could have worked because I had hit that point. And you know the saying when the student is ready, the teacher will appear. I think because I was ready and it finally became top priority for me that I will conquer this, a lot of things probably could have helped. I don't think there is a single silver bullet when it comes to mental health or physical health. In the same way, I think we all have to experiment and find our things. And often, I think the approach is multifaceted. But all of those things kind of played into kind of changing your inner self talk. And I think if we start there, that has ripple effects into our whole life. So whether it be things like starting with gratitude each morning, or purposely calling out the things in ourself that we can appreciate. Or one practitioner, when I would start to get in that cycle of finding my flaws or getting hard on myself, she had me say this phrase, "Even though I," and whatever it was. "Feeling self-critical right now. I love and accept myself. And I love and accept myself when I now choose not to be self-critical and to love my body."

And the first few times I had to say that, I literally cried because I didn't believe myself when I said the words, "I love and accept myself." And it was a huge process, but over time it changes your inner voice. So I went from literally at least half of my mental energy every day caught up in this hating of my body to now it's something I don't even think about. I don't think about it at all. But it took a solid couple of years for that to fully stick. But it's one of probably the more important things I've ever done.

Dr. Heather Sandison: As someone who appreciates efficiency, I would imagine when you got this ton of mental energy back and you were able to channel it into so many other more productive, more exciting, certainly more fun things. Right?

Katie Wells: Absolutely. And that's gone hand in hand also with the personal life getting easier. Because I've always said and believed I think moms are the most powerful force on the planet and we're a force of nature. But we are often so caught in that cycle of just all the things we have going on mentally that we don't harness our full power. And it has been amazing to see with all the extra bandwidth, just how much fun it is to have much more presence with my kids and my family. And also just the ability to take on all these projects and to have all my bandwidth back.

What is the “Wellnesse” Personal Care Line All About?

Dr. Heather Sandison: So tell us about some of those projects. I know Wellnesse is the personal care line. So tell me a little bit about what you're doing there, what the goals are with that line.

Katie Wells: This one has been so fun. So for years, I've written about personal care products and household products. Years ago when I was really sick, I started making all of my own from scratch. Because back then there were no really good natural alternatives at all. And I definitely was reacting probably because that heightened immune response, I was reacting to so many things. That I had to be very dialed in with my diet. And I had to be very careful about what I put on my body as well. So I was making homemade toothpaste, and homemade shampoo, and lotion, and everything from scratch, which also does take quite a bit of time and energy. But I found recipes that really worked, and I spent kind of decades, or at least over a decade perfecting these. And I shared them all on the blog and they're all still there for anyone who wants to use them. But I got so many questions from people about, "Can you just make these so I don't have to keep making them at home?"

And I realized that even my most naturally minded friends, so I had all these friends who ate completely organic, they avoided food dyes, they avoided sugar. But they were still using name brand shampoo, toothpaste, certain core products. And it was because they worked. And I realized women especially are not willing to sacrifice how they look and how they feel externally even to be natural. And while there are now a lot of natural products, there weren't any that I had found that really actually rivaled the conventional brands. And I knew from all of my experimenting that it was not just possible to do that, but I had already kind of figured out these formula.

So I wanted to tackle the hardest ones first. So we started with toothpaste and haircare, and our non-negotiable goal was that everything we create has to be as effective or more effective than what would be considered the mainstream brands. And it had to be completely nontoxic and safe, and go beyond that. So to me, it wasn't enough to just be nontoxic. All of our formulas meet Environmental Working Group guidelines, but I wanted them to also be beneficial. So that saying that we absorb, the figure varies, but roughly 60% of what we put on our skin. I wanted to turn that on its head. So of course that means we shouldn't put bad stuff on our skin. But what if we put good stuff on our skin? What if we use that to our advantage to kind of feed our hair, and feed our skin,, and feed our mouth, and support the oral microbiome.

So we had a lot of fun, really iterating. The toothpaste took almost 100 iterations to get a formula. I feel like it's finally, it's wonderful. It's whitening and it re-mineralizes. The haircare is hair food versus hair detergent. Most people don't realize that shampoo is often largely detergent based. And our hair is not dirty laundry. So over time when you strip away the proteins and the oils that are present in your hair, your hair gets more brittle. And you have to keep using more and more hair products to keep it manageable. And it thins over time. Basically the haircare industry has created a self-serving cycle where we need all of these things. Whereas our hair naturally has so much of this built in. So when you start feeding your hair versus taking things out of your hair, it completely changes your scalp. And we're getting so many amazing stories from people who are seeing hair growth start, and their hair is not breaking anymore. And it's been really, really exciting to get to share those products with the world.

So we're very close also to, we've now released hand sanitizer. In line with everything going on right now, I wanted to create a clean hand sanitizer. And then we have a dry shampoo coming really soon, which I'm really excited about because I think that's a, at least for me personally, it's a huge product I use daily. And it's one of the more toxic ones. And even for me, I know I've used the super toxic spray dry shampoos when I have to do a photo shoot or something, because it works. And I wanted to be able to give women another alternative.

Reducing the Toxic Burden in Our Homes

Dr. Heather Sandison: So these are such exciting products to have on the market and so sorely needed. What are other quick, simple things that moms or anyone living in a home, right? All of us can do to reduce the toxic burden of what we're either absorbing or breathing in. You have written extensively about this.

Katie Wells: Yeah. I think most people probably have heard the statistic that indoor air is often more polluted than outdoor air, and sometimes as much as 100 times more polluted. And it's because of all the products we bring into our homes. And just like I feel like in the beauty industry, we've been told we need all these extra things. We've been told that when it comes to our house as well. We've been told we need a separate cleaner for the counters, and for the cabinets, and for the dishes, and for the toilet, and for the windows. Everything needs its own product. And many of them are largely chemical based. Everything from our laundry detergents, to cleaning products, to pesticides, etc. And there really are much simpler alternatives. So I have recipes for all of these. People can find them on, but you can make almost every cleaning product you need with a couple of really easy ingredients or a couple of simple eco [inaudible 00:25:27] plastic exposure and waste because you can make them yourself in glass jars. You can keep reusing it.

So instead of dozens of bottles, you have one plastic bottle of concentrate that last months. And then you have all these products that clean your house naturally. And it's been really amazing to see indoor air testing before and after making that switch. People don't often realize just how many products and chemicals they're bringing into the home, especially for cleaning. And in line with the idea of 80/20 everything, if you just switch to a natural concentrate based cleaner and start using that for household cleaning and laundry, you reduce your exposure by 80%. So these don't have to be really drastic changes, and they don't have to be expensive changes. Because you actually save money over time. It just takes that one time intentionality of changing them out and creating that system. And it really does save time and money over time.

Dr. Heather Sandison: Something I like to share with my patients in the clinic is just opening your doors and windows for an hour a day can get that good airflow. Like you said, it's so much more polluted inside than outside. So if we can get that rush of fresh air and circulate that air, then we're going to be breathing fewer toxins. The other thing is just taking your shoes off at the door. So not tracking in all those pesticides and herbicides that might be sprayed that we have no control over, right? Walking through a parking lot, picking up petrochemicals on our shoes. We don't have any control over that. But we can take our shoes off at the door and not let it in the house. So there are so many great little things.

And some tips that I picked up on your website. So I have to admit that over this last weekend, I have an 18 month old. And she's getting her first year molars. So in the middle of the night, she's been waking up four and five times a night right now because of this pain that she's suffering poor girl. And it's disturbing me of course. So it's like desperate for what do I do? What do I do? And you were of course top of mind because we're having this conversation this morning. So I went on your website. And sure enough, there's really great tips about, I ended up using camomile tea, which I had in my cabinet. And there were a couple of things I was going to have to order, but I had that right there. So much of what you talk about is super easy, really accessible. And probably something that when you're in this moment of desperation like I was, could go to your cabinet and find it. So I just am so grateful for what you're putting out there and making accessible to other women. Other toxin in the home ideas that you want to share at this point?

Tips for Meal Planning

Katie Wells: I think that's a big one. I also, like you mentioned, I've, there's now about 1,300 posts on Wellness Mama. So most topics that someone would search for, there is a post for. And I love that to just be kind of an encyclopedic reference for moms. Because just like we talked about with moms being kind of the emotional spearhead of the family, I feel like if you can make mom's life easier, you make everybody's life easier in the family. But that's definitely the points where I would start.

Also I think just to speak to the food side for a second, because my background in nutrition as well. I think there's an easy way to systematize that. So what I often encourage women to do is create a rotating meal plan that's based on seasonal produce, which is cheaper and more nutrient dense. And basically create two weeks of meal plans and then just alternate them for that whole season. So then you do the work one time, you have two grocery lists that alternate each week. And you don't have to think about it. So you're not in that decision fatigue every day at 4:00 PM, what am I going to cook for dinner? You always have the ingredients on hand. You can shop once a week. You know what you're cooking, which also means other people in the family can get involved with the cooking. That's been a game changer for me for systematizing and also just helps stay on track with eating nutrient dense foods without the stress.

Dr. Heather Sandison: And reducing the toxic burden as well. That's such a relevant topic of discussion when we're talking about food, right? We can decide three, four, or five times a day. As many times as we're picking up a snack or eating a meal what we want to put into our bodies, and the hair food, right? Is it going to serve us, or is it going to be something that requires more work for our body to process and get rid of?

So focusing on those seasonal vegetables is such a great idea. And I think it's one of those things again, people see it and hear it over and over again. But then how to make it practical. So it sounds like what you're saying is create a plan.

Katie Wells: Yeah. I think that's what it comes back to in so many areas of life. Whether it be the household side, the reducing toxin side, the food side. Anything we can systematize, we take out the mental stress of it. Because for all of us, it's not necessarily getting things done that's the stressful part. It's the mental open loops of all the things that have to get done. So if everything has a time, and a place, and a plan, you're not stressed about the other things when it's not their time. So you have that mental bandwidth to focus on what you actually need to do, and also to not be stressed out by all the other things, which makes you much more present. So I'm a big fan of just like you would in business, creating those systems to make household life easier.

Are Infrared or Traditional Saunas Better?

Dr. Heather Sandison: So you also have the sauna experiment going on right now. Can you describe what that is and what you're hoping again to share with the community?

Katie Wells: Absolutely. We're seeing so much cool research about this right now. And I've always been fascinated by sauna use. I had already been interested and familiar with the research and had a sauna. But this really sparked for me about a year and a half ago when I visited Finland. And to see the culture there, which if I'm remembering, they have almost as many saunas as people. They're very much a sauna culture. And we were up in the Northern, the Arctic region of Finland in the winter. And we did this sauna [inaudible 00:31:13] with them where we went into a sauna that was about 200 degrees, and then went into cold water that was 24 degrees and moving. Then I had to get out into air that was -24 degrees and go back in the sauna. And it was incredibly intense, but it was also one of the more challenging and fun experiences I've had.

And it made me start really looking into the research of saunas. Because in Finland, they have factors that you wouldn't think would line up with being in their favor. They have extremely long sun times during the summer months, and then almost no sunshine during the winter months. And knowing what we know about light and how important it is for circadian rhythm and for health, it doesn't make sense that they could have such good health outcomes in so many areas. And the theory is that sauna use is potentially one of the mitigating factors for them because it has so many benefits.

When you start delving into the studies, you find that sauna use is closest I think we can get to a silver bullet. It reduces the risk of all of the major things. Heart disease, cancer, dementia, Alzheimer's all cause mortality drastically. So most of those things, it reduces the risk by about 60%. It reduces risk of all cause mortality by almost half. Which again, if there was a pill that did that, we would all take it.

And there's potentially a lot of reasons for that. It's increasing the body's natural detox pathways. Anytime you sweat, that's a great way to get stuff out of your body. So that's one factor. It's an exercise mimetic, which means that you're getting a lot of the benefits, at least the cardiovascular benefits of exercise without actually moving. So you might actually burn up to about 600 calories an hour by sitting in a sauna. You're not going to get the strength benefits. We should still all move and lift weights for that reason. But cardiovascular and respiratory wise, you can get a lot of those benefits from sauna use. And then for the brain, probably because of the increased circulation, we see really amazing outcomes with Alzheimer's and dementia.

So since these are all kind of top of mind problems in society today that are all on the rise, I was really amazed to see there is this thing that seems to improve across the board and short of some pretty severe health conditions. Doesn't seem to have a lot of downsides, as long as you are hydrating and doing everything the right way.

But you also, there's kind of a debate between traditional saunas, infrared saunas. And there's all this sources that say that infrared saunas are maybe more beneficial because they penetrate the body more and lead to more detox, but they're not quite as hot. Whereas other studies seem to indicate that it's the heat itself that's the mechanism. So I wanted to start doing experiments, just anecdotal ones. Since I obviously don't have the resources for a large scale clinical trial. But I realized I could test this anecdotally.

So kind of doing a two part trial with this. One which is to do the sauna regularly. So basically all the data, if you combine it shows that using the sauna four to seven times a week for a certain amount of time, which is at least 30 minutes, a lot of them say 45 minutes, at a temperature of at least 160 to 170 degrees is what causes that trigger of reducing all of those risk factors.

So I took labs that would indicate a lot of those things. Immune function, brain function, inflammatory markers, CRP. Things that we could look at that would be tangible potential indicators of cardiovascular risks. Brain health, immune health, etc. And we're doing a multi-month experiment on that with six subjects. And we're doing labs before and after, and also during to see what happens. But the other thing I wanted to test was this idea that infrared saunas help you detox more.

So BPA is widespread problem in today's world. We're all exposed to a lot of plastic chemicals, but BPA is the easiest one to test for. So I'm doing a side-by-side experiment kind of alternating between infrared saunas and traditional saunas doing skin and fat BPA tests before and after to see which might be causing more excretion. And again, not a big enough sample size to be considered a definitive trial by any means. But for my own curiosity, I wanted to see at least for me and for people that I know, where are we able to derive the most benefits. So we're in the middle of that right now. And I will say that at the beginning, learning to spend 45 minutes in the sauna without getting out at 170 degrees took a little act of the will. But it has been really interesting and amazing to see so far the benefits. And we'll see what the labs reveal in a few weeks after the final round.

Dr. Heather Sandison: I mean, you have a great deal of influence with all of your followers. But even this, what I've seen happen with case studies or following something like this, an observational study like what you're doing, is that it will spur more science. Right? Maybe you don't have the capacity for a large scale clinical trial. But the fact that you're doing something like this may inspire someone else to take that on, right? If you can show these results, then it'll inspire the next person. Especially if with the influence that you have in your community, if everyone there can say, "Hey, we would love to see this. We would love to see more people use saunas and make sure that it's safe. And let's do these large scale trials." So with that influence, do you feel like there's a degree of responsibility? How do you think about that?

Katie Wells: Absolutely. And especially as things have grown, I feel that more and more, and I find myself being very careful what I say. Because I want to obviously make sure everything I would mention is correct, but also not health advice, because I'm not a doctor. And I always am careful to remind people of that. But also because I really do firmly believe that everything is so individualized that we find the best results when we all do our own experimentation. So I don't want someone to think they can just take my method at face value. I really want to inspire people to do their own observational studies. Even if it's just for their own diet, an elimination diet or with trying different things. I think there's tremendous value in just keeping a quick journal. Or for me, it's a lot of spreadsheets on the inputs you're putting in and the outputs that you're seeing. And that's where we really can see the data over time.

I also personally run things like I wear an aura ring and I track health measures in various ways, including monthly labs. And I think that's been really valuable to see as I start changing, especially as I losing weight, but changing all these variables somewhat drastically to make sure that the outputs were staying in the correct range. And I'm hopeful that, and the reason I focus so much on moms, I think we have the unique ability to really change health outcomes because we're raising the next generation. So I think when you give moms a tools to do this, we can change this over generations and over time.

And to mention your point about, to go back to the saunas for a minute. I think that there's a beautiful opportunity there also to build in community. Because in Finland, sauna is a community activity. So in our own little neighborhood, there's only 19 homes. And I think right now, five of those 19 have saunas, and three or four more are ordering saunas. And we often will switch houses and sauna together. But it's funny because we're almost to a Finland concentration of saunas per household. But it's kind of a thing that's rippled out because people see the benefits, and it's built-in time for relationships with other people. Which we also know is one of the better predictors of health. And when you look at blue zones, strong relationships and community is also another really key factor. So I think if you can stack habits like that, it makes them stick, but it also makes them more effective and leads to community meals after sauna time, which is another great factor. And I just think that women are in a really unique place to sort of guide that change.

Dr. Heather Sandison: Yeah. If you got to spend 45 minutes in a sauna, you might as well do it with someone you enjoy.

Katie Wells: Exactly.

What’s Next For Wellness Mama?

Dr. Heather Sandison: So what do you see the next phase of your career being? So you're relatively young. You've got lots of years to keep experimenting and evolving. What do you hope will happen in the next 13 years or the next 10 years for Wellness Mama?

Katie Wells: I'm really excited to keep hopefully changing the personal care industry. My goal with that is over time to be able to make all the products that families need. There's a lot of beauty brands that are just women centered or focus on a specific niche. I want to make the products that families use and to be the family brand. So to kind of revolutionize all of the personal care products you would have in your house for families. And we're in the process of doing that. It's been really fun to get to experiment and do that.

On the Wellness Mama side, kind of in line with my own journey over the last couple of years. I've written so much about the physical health side and the environment and lifestyle, and diet, and supplements. And those things are all like I said so important. But I also want to now help women with the mental overwhelm and stress and trauma side. Because I think that is the key that really is important for so many of us and the hardest one to tackle or. At least it was for me.

But on a personal level, I'm also really excited for these next 10 to 14 years for me to be about as I mentioned with family being the most important things in those key objectives and results, with helping my kids do the same. So my husband and I clearly defined the important things we wanted our kids to make sure that they maintained and had before they left home. And we center their education around traits like creativity, critical thinking, the ability to learn things quickly. Being able to challenge and ask why. I always tell my kids don't take any source at face value. Ask why, then ask why again, and then ask why again. And then you're getting closer to the truth, and then ask why again. But building all those skills. And my husband and I are both entrepreneurs. We wanted to give them the foundation to be entrepreneurs.

So they finished traditional school, basically all of the high school curriculum by about age 14. And we teach them the skills to take the SAT, or the PSAT, or the ACT. And I kind of teach them that it's a game, and I can teach you how to beat the game. It's not a silver bullet. It's not going to be your path in life. But during their normal high school years, we have created a business incubator where we have a contract with them that they have to have a profitable business for one year before they can have a car or a phone. Which is a pretty motivating thing for a teenager. So we now have a couple of kids starting to move into this phase of education. And I'm really excited to kind of work side-by-side with them to grow businesses with the hope, we've kind of taught them since they were little that money is just a marker of the value you bring to the world and the problems you solve. And their generation has quite a few problems to solve. So giving them the tools to start doing that and hopefully to fail a few good times while we can still help them through it. And to create something that provides value to the world and that can become a business for them.

Dr. Heather Sandison: Wow. That's really inspiring. The reason I do what I do with working with the elderly population and people who have Alzheimer's is because I feel like they have so much to give the world. They're at the height of their wisdom and experience. And keeping them in community, keeping them in the workforce, keeping them in their families is so valuable. And what you're doing is just at the other end of the spectrum, right? How do we create these children who are showing up ready to solve the world's problems? And that's super, super exciting. And I cannot wait to see who your children become. You've got six of them, right?

Katie Wells: I do have six of them. Yep.

Dr. Heather Sandison: So how old are they right now?

Katie Wells: So four to 13.

Dr. Heather Sandison: Wow. Yeah. So over the next decade, big changes in your house.

Katie Wells: Absolutely.

About Katie Wells

Dr. Heather Sandison: So what else do you want to share with our listeners? And certainly how can they find you and find out more about getting ahold of this book Zen and the Art of Dirty Dishes? And also ordering personal care products and access to the blog.

Katie Wells: Yeah, the easiest way online. I'm Wellness Mama pretty much everywhere on the interwebs. is the hub. And we have our newsletter there that will have information about the book when it comes out. Also you mentioned at the beginning, I have a podcast as well, the Wellness Mama Podcast. And I'm everywhere on social media as Wellness Mama. And then the new company is Wellnesse, which is wellness with an E on the end. And all of the products are available there.

Dr. Heather Sandison: Fantastic. Yes, thank you for mentioning the podcast. You have an amazing podcast of which I subscribe to and get tons of great information from. So thank you so much for your time today. It's been an absolute pleasure having you. And thank you of course to all of our listeners for joining us.

Katie Wells: Thank you so much for having me.

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