I was more likely to go to a war zone than start Karmacist
If you’d have asked me a year or two ago whether it was more likely that I’d end up in a war zone or launch a range of botanical supplements, I’d have pointed to the bullet-proof vest that sits in my cupboard and chuckled at the idea of becoming a purveyor of pills.
The kevlar vest has, thankfully, only left the cupboard once - when filming innocent villagers targeted by CIA drones in Pakistan. But it reassuringly stays nestled behind a pair of old jeans and a frayed yoga mat.
During the last 20 years I’ve had the privilege of reporting around the world for the BBC and National Geographic in the US.
But the machismo reporter role never really felt entirely comfortable - largely because of the depression and anxiety that I’m prone to. In fact, when asked to go to an actual war zone - to cover the Iraq conflict - I politely declined, knowing I’d get PTSD before I’d even left Baghdad airport. And when, as a cub reporter, I won Young Journalist of the Year I had to pop a beta blocker before making the acceptance speech.
I naturally drifted to the more reflective and emotionally-nuanced world of documentaries - where my greatest pleasure was turning a group of lonely elder people into the world’s oldest rock group, The Zimmers, who became a global sensation with their cover of My Generation.
Whilst criss-crossing the world interrogating stories - with rigour and scepticism - I’ve also constantly been investigating something else: what might take the edge off my own angst. Exploring, with that same journalistic rigour, what might lessen the depression and anxiety which can really put a spanner in enjoying life.
It’s led me to road-test all manner of therapies and ‘solutions’; to make documentaries about why so many of us are having a mental health wobble (which, humblingly, led to the top award from the charity Mind); to write a deeply candid book encouraging men to be more open about their vulnerabilities; and to launch a podcast, All Hail Kale, for a discerning look at which wellness trends are worth bothering with - and which belong in the coffee enema camp.
Like a pig in the proverbial, the podcast gave me access to interview the true heroes of the health-obsessed - Harvard and Stanford scientists (to think it was once rock stars and footballers that set the pulse racing).
Amidst my Ivy League, lab-coated love-in, I chanced upon some scientists who introduced me to the nascent field of nutrigenomics. The fascinating research into how specific nutrients, like those in botanicals, affect particular genes… including the genes that are seen as a driving force in the likes of depression and anxiety (bingo!), as well as all manner of physical health conditions, immunity and even ageing.
What really resonated was the fusion of science with the natural; the hyper-modern lab discoveries combined with the timeless know-how of plants we’ve been turning to throughout history, across countless cultures.
The results of my own mental healthy ‘journey’ essentially mirrored that ethos: be open to the best that modern medicine has to offer - and to what we can learn from traditional cultures (yoga, meditation, acupuncture, herbs).
So, by the time the scientists had patiently managed to convey to me the nuances of gene expression, my instinctive scepticism melted away - replaced by that unfamiliar feeling (for a dour northern bloke) of being awed and invigorated. And with an enthusiasm to get the scientists’ findings out there. To strangely take a step into the world of supplements - and together launch Karmacist.
Unless we happen to move our production from the Chilterns to Kabul, I guess that flak jacket will be staying put for a while.