Caroline Rasmussen was living THAT life of a high functioning but burnt out Wall Street lawyer when an unexpected family diagnosis caused her life to come screeching to a halt.
She decided to take a hard left turn and devoted her life to learning how you can maintain brain and cognitive function for the long term. This lead to her training in herbal medicine and meditation, and she later began to delve into the science of neurological health and degeneration. Through this research, she learned about the damaging effects of inflammation and stress on the brain (cough, cough, Wall Street).
This journey ultimately lead to the launch of Antara: products that marry both Western and Eastern philosophies. The formulas use centuries-old plant medicines known to enhance the health of the mind, and then amplify their effects with modern bioavailability technology.
When I sat down with Caroline a few weeks back, I realized how little I think about my brain health. It’s all gut / skin / hair / nails / lymphatic drainage etc…. but what about the the beast of an organ that holds our personality, thoughts, dreams, memories and emotions?
Caroline took the time to answer a few of my pressing questions about brain health….
Can you tell us a bit about how Antara came into being? What caused you to switch from Wall Street lawyer to starting a wellness brand?
The initial catalyst for Antara was my dad’s early onset dementia and Parkinson’s diagnosis. At the time I was working as a corporate lawyer in NYC and was very much caught up in the Wall Street lifestyle where working 24/7 can be considered a badge of honor. I was so busy that I didn’t even realize how burnt out and depressed I was until my dad’s diagnosis, but it was so heartbreaking that it completely shifted my motivation from meeting the expectations of people around me to doing everything I could to avoid dementia myself and find a better way of living that I could actually enjoy.
I quit my job and went back home to Thailand to start healing myself and learning about the brain. In that process I discovered the original analog means of self improvement back in Asia, herbal therapies and consciousness therapies. Working with the herbs and immersing myself in the research, I found that they can be used not only to create flow states of calm focus but that they can also counter the aging effects of inflammation, detox and oxygenate the brain, buffer the neurotoxic effects of stress, and help you grow new brain cells.
The more I applied what I was learning at herbal clinics and meditation retreats, the better my brain started working, whereas before I constantly felt foggy, down and had zero energy. The effects were so powerful for me that I knew I wanted to work in this field in some way. I ultimately decided to launch Antara because I saw gaps in the market in terms of what was being offered in these areas to support the mind, and a growing need for that support.
Can you tell us a bit about “brain health?” Why is it so important? And what can one do to improve their own brain health? Are there specific foods or practices one should participate in?
You are your brain; the health of the brain dictates almost everything about you. How you perceive events in life, your personality, your physical and emotional health, and so on – these are all intimately related to your brain’s health and function. By supporting your brain now, you not only enjoy things more and improve your quality of life today but you’re also giving yourself the best chance of avoiding brain diseases later in life. Every 65 seconds someone in America is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and the first markers of what will become the disease start developing decades before we notice any symptoms. What the research is finding though is that for the most part, dementia is a preventable condition – the brain has a powerful capacity to heal itself when insults are taken away and the right nutrients are added. We don’t have to wait to be diagnosed, indeed for the best outcomes we absolutely shouldn’t, to prioritize our brain health.
As with many health issues, the most important factor is diet. A Mediterranean-style diet is generally agreed upon as the most supportive for brain health. Today 60% of the calories we consume come from just three plants, wheat, corn and rice, which are usually pulverized to form ultra-processed foods that drive inflammation. A high processed carb, high sugar diet also leads to chronic elevation of blood glucose and the hormone insulin. Not only does this promote fat storage but 40% of Alzheimer’s cases may be attributable to chronically elevated insulin, to the point where dementia is sometimes referred to now as Type III diabetes. Try to phase out these foods and focus instead on:
Dark leafy greens like kale. Research has found that people who eat dark leafy greens daily have brains that perform up to 11 years younger on scans. These greens contain high concentrations of two carotenoids, lutein and zeaxanthin, which not only increase the processing power of the brain but are great for eye and skin health as well.
Wild fatty fish like salmon.
Avocados. Your brain is mostly made of fat, and avocados have a higher concentration of fat-protecting antioxidants than any other vegetable or fruit.
Berries, especially blueberries. The color in blueberries has been shown to accumulate in the hippocampus and protect against oxidation.
Extra virgin olive oil.
Free range eggs.
Cruciferous vegetables like cabbage and broccoli. These give your body the raw materials to stimulate your cellular detoxification pathways.
In addition to diet, adequate deep sleep and exercise are really important. While you sleep your brain’s trash collection system, known as the glymphatic system, clears out harmful cellular waste products and neurotoxic substances that accumulate throughout the day, including amyloid-beta, the protein that forms the characteristic plaques in Alzheimer’s. This is critical to reducing brain inflammation and maintaining a healthy environment for your neurons to communicate with each other. Exercise, both aerobic and resistance training, is also correlated to better brain and mental health. It stimulates the release of Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF), which is basically like Miracle Grow for brain cells.
Finally, it’s worth noting that we can be doing all the right things, eating a perfect diet, working out every day, but our brain health can still suffer if we don’t address what’s going on in our minds. Learning how to regulate stress is vital – we know that psychological stress negatively impacts the brain and that high levels of sustained cortisol literally shrink the hippocampus, our memory center. On the other hand, stress reducing practices like meditation help decrease inflammation, increase connections across the brain (known as neuroplasticity) and promote the creation of new brain cells (neurogenesis).
Why do you think brain health has been relatively overlooked until now?
I think it’s a combination of factors – unlike drinking too much and having a hangover the next day, or not wearing your seatbelt and getting injured in a car accident, there’s more of a time lag between the things we do that impair our brain function and having the decline show up in increasingly troubling ways. We’re also all so busy, and living in a culture that prioritizes external appearances, so unless something is really crippling us in our day-to-day or the internal condition is having a visible manifestation, through our skin for example, we can take the approach of just forging ahead even if we’re not really feeling or functioning very well. That’s what I did, even though in retrospect my brain was far from working at peak, until the issue came into my life in a way that I couldn’t avoid.
The good news is that improving our brain health in many ways just comes down to living a life that is less inflammatory, and that helps us with our gut health, skin, energy levels, all the other areas we may be concerned about as well. It’s not as if you have to make room for a whole new wellness protocol just for your brain, these are practices you’re probably already cultivating to some degree and that benefit your overall vitality and every part of your life.
How does Antara marry eastern and western philosophy in regards to health?
In traditional Eastern medicine, the treatment of symptoms is considered secondary to their prevention, which is very different from the dominant Western paradigm of waiting until disease develops before taking action. The emphasis on prevention and maintaining balance so you can actually avert problems is so relevant to dementia which we now know starts in the brain decades before things like memory loss and impaired motor function start to happen. Many of us don’t realize the connection between brain problems we may be having now, like brain fog and depression, and possible more serious issues down the line, but it’s very real. That’s why I ended up not just developing a quick fix nootropic, but two products that work together to improve your mental performance today and at the same time optimize for the future.
One thing that Western medicine has really excelled at on the other hand is developing methods to quantify and trace treatment effects down to the molecular level. Antara formulations take advantage of this technology and the hundreds of clinical studies that have been conducted around these botanicals to identify the most potent, bioavailable extracts, as well as to ensure our herbs are pure by testing beyond FDA standards for contaminants like heavy metals and pesticides.
The other concept that is fundamental to Antara is the interconnectedness of mind, brain and body. Amrita Anti-Aging Brain Food is clinically proven to remove inflammatory waste proteins from the brain, but it also has anti-aging and antioxidant actions across the whole body, because the brain and the body are not separate even though that’s how they’ve historically been viewed in Western medicine. Dharana Focus & Energy Brain Food is formulated with nootropics that work to fire up concentration and mental energy in the moment, but that also act as adaptogens to gradually even out the stress response over time, which involves your adrenal glands and cortisol receptors all throughout the body.
Similarly, Eastern medicine has always known that what’s happening in the mind affects the physical, and science has proven now that sustained stress and negative emotion cause measurable inflammatory changes. This is why meditation training is an integral part of the Antara offering. In Asia, meditation is practiced not just as a way to optimize performance but also as a way to prevent cognitive decline and improve emotional and spiritual quality of life. It works so well with the herbs to increase focus and mood, reduce inflammation, and repattern the brain for less stress reactivity, so we have the tools to build a lasting foundation of wellness in our lives.
Thank you so much, Caroline!