Welcome to ON BEAUTY, a monthly feature highlighting creative, like-minded people who inspire us.
If you’ve ever stood in the supplement aisle of your favorite health food store trying to navigate the endless options in front of you—you’re not alone. There are many, many choices on the market, which is why, when it came time to fulfill Julie’s forever dream of creating her own supplements, it was important to get them exactly right.
Enter Dr. Kevin Spelman, molecular biologist, phytochemist and master formulator behind our new line of herbal tinctures. An expert in all things plant potential, Dr. Spelman has consulted on a number of In Fiore projects in the past, and we were thrilled to have him sign on as a collaborator in this highly anticipated launch. Here, he dives deep on the power of Lâche-Lymphe, Adapt'Âscend and Immun’Attune.
One of the things I used to tell people in my clinical practice was, don’t look for results for three months. These aren't drugs. We're not pounding something over the head with a sledgehammer. This is a subtler approach. We are nudging our physiology, enhancing wellness.
–Dr. Kevin Spelman
First, we’d love some background.
I practiced clinical herbal medicine for a couple of decades after training programs in Ayurvedic medicine and Western herbal medicine, and a biochemistry degree. I really took to heart how many people improved using herbs, nutrients and lifestyle changes—especially people that the medical system had given up on. I was amazed by the results I was getting and wanted to understand it more. I went into a PhD in Biology, focusing on molecular techniques to study the interface between plants and human physiology. At the same time, I co-founded the first Master of Science in Clinical Herbal Medicine at what is now called Maryland University of Integrative Health.
During my research in grad school, I studied the endocannabinoid system, but I didn't know that's what it was—nobody knew that's what it was at the time. It had been limited to only CB1/CB2 receptors, the endocannabinoid ligands and the enzyme systems biosynthesizing and metabolizing the endocannabinoid ligands. I was studying a target outside of that which ended up being important in immunology and metabolism. I also put together the first human trial on dandelion to show it was an effective diuretic. Given how underfunded medicinal plant research is, nobody had ever actually shown the diuretic effects of dandelion on humans. From there I did a research fellowship on medicinal plants that could treat malaria in Paris as a Marie Curie fellow. I went on to investigate ovarian cancer and brain cancer as a postdoc at the National Institute of Health.
Cool, so no big deal. What do you do now?
I consult for natural products companies. I have 25 or 30 products out there, everything from topicals to liquid extracts to capsules.
Take us through your formulation strategy for these tinctures.
I used the Chinese formulation strategy to explain how I was combining ingredients. In the Chinese model (Ayurvedic medicine, and in many cases, herbal medicine, use this same strategy) they think of the state (the government) and the monarch as being the ruler. That monarch herb is the key herb. Then you have to support that herb—if you will, augment the monarchs power—so you add a minister and assistants and envoys. Besides this traditional approach, I also thought it through on a molecular level—searching for the pharmacology that would make the most impact.
What was it like to collaborate with Julie?
Julie is very creative. I’ve loved being able to think about how to do this in a truly holistic way with her. We were a good team and were able to generate ideas that perhaps neither one of us would have come up with on our own. Julie really wanted a psychospiritual effect in addition to the evidence-based pharmacological approach. So, we added essential oils and flower essences. Essential oils are considered in many ways the soul of the plant. From that perspective, putting just a hint of EOs in the formula adds depth to the feeling, depth to the activity and incredible pharmacological activity.
Speaking of psychospiritual, what’s a flower essence?
It's the essence of the energy, the vibration of the plant. Originally, they were collecting morning dew off flowers, which had an energy to it, and using that energy to heal people. If you were to take a flower essence into a lab and study it, you wouldn't see any chemicals. It's just energy.
Do you personally get behind this energetic piece?
I believe that energy is the next major breakthrough in medicine. We have taken the chemical aspect of physiology and pharmacology to a height that, frankly, just can't go much higher until we get a little smarter and more sophisticated in our laboratory prowess and embrace systems pharmacology. Whereas energy is something we really don't understand yet. Even the definition of energy is somewhat mysterious, even for scientists.
Essential oils are considered in many ways the soul of the plant.
These tinctures are described as concentrated fluid extracts. What does that mean?
A fluid extract is by definition a 1:1 ratio of herb to liquid. Fresh tinctures are usually 1:2 but if you look at how much existing water is in the plant and do the math, they end up being around 1:9 to 1:11. When they take dry plants and tincture them, 1:5 is traditional. The concentration of these fluid extracts is a big differentiator between them and other tinctures on the market. Here are the ratios of herb to solution:
2-3X stronger than the average dry plant tincture
4-5X stronger than the average fresh plant tincture
3-4X stronger than average dry plant tincture
6-7X stronger than the average fresh plant tincture
3-4X stronger than average dry plant tincture
6-7X stronger than the average fresh plant tincture
How do herbal tinctures work?
A famous ethnobotanist, Dr. James Duke, used to say—and I love this: "When we swallow a plant, our body mines the phytonutrients that we need." I think this is a huge piece of understanding herbal medicine. We're providing all this potential. Don't think of it as molecules or chemicals and plants. Think of it as information. We are mail sorting in the gut, like, where does this information go? The information being the plant compounds we have swallowed.
How do you advise using tinctures?
I'd encourage you to explore. We all react differently to our environments, to medications, to herbs. You have a laboratory—it's called your body. Use it. One of the things I used to tell people in my clinical practice was, don’t look for results for three months. These aren't drugs. We're not pounding something over the head with a sledgehammer. This is a subtler approach. We are nudging our physiology, enhancing wellness.
Calendula, an In Fiore favorite, is the monarch of Lâche-Lymphe. How does it work internally?
We can't talk about the lymphatic system without talking about things like the liver, spleen and skin. Calendula has an effect on all these different aspects. It has a significant effect on the liver and was used in the 18th century as a remedy for jaundice. It was used for soothing agitation of the heart. It was used to heal skin, for gastrointestinal issues, and difficult menstrual cycles. It's considered cleansing and detoxifying. In Europe especially, calendula is considered a key lymph herb.
Does using calendula internally and externally create synergy?
Almost certainly, you're going to see the inside-out/outside-in effect enhanced. You're stimulating the drainage of inflamed lymph nodes, and breast and pelvic tissues, especially, are pretty profoundly affected.
What’s the relationship between lymphatics and collagen?
Lymphatics and collagen go hand in hand. We're around 60% water. Part of that is the extracellular matrix, this fluid that's more gel-like than water-like, that holds us together and makes order out of our organ systems and the messaging that goes from cell to cell, or tissue to tissue, or organ to organ.
Collagen is key in that extracellular fluid because it creates these tracks. Early anatomists cut open the body and used acids to dissolve collagen so they could look at organs. If they’d done the opposite and dissolved the organs, they would have seen an incredible network of potential informational flow—a web of collagen tracks that information could follow. If we’d been able to do that, we would have a completely different understanding of physiology.
And by the way, by improving lymphatics, you've improved the quality of gel that envelops collagen. So ultimately good lymphatics improves informational flow through the body.
Who needs Lâche-Lymphe?
People who get bogged down easily, whether emotionally or physically, and may have gut, liver or lymph node issues. Also, those we have weak immune systems because by supporting the lymph system, you're supporting immune function.
What adaptogens have shown is this ability to buffer that stress response when it becomes harmful. It's not so much the stimuli that's causing the illness, it's our response.
What’s your take on adaptogens?
I like the modern term that's being used for optimal wellness: resilience. Being able to increase resilience whether it's to poor quality food, chemical exposure or a toxic work environment. A lot of the mechanisms we turn on in our body to survive are the same regardless of the type of physical or psychological insult that we endure. What adaptogens have shown is this ability to buffer that stress response when it becomes harmful. It's not so much the stimuli that's causing the illness, it's our response. That's what's key here; it soothes our overreaction to stress, whatever that stress is. In other words, we are building resilience.
There's this great plant I just love: Ganoderma lucidum, also known as Reishi. It's a mushroom and the Chinese had a nickname for it: the herb of spiritual potency. I've never experienced another herb that I love so much. Reishi, traditionally, was used for insomnia even though it's energizing. In order to sleep well, you have to have enough bodily energy to sleep. When you're really run down, you don't sleep well because you don't have enough energy to put into the sleeping process. Reishi has this biphasic ability to both energize you and help you rest in a really incredible way and one of the ways we see these effects is through improved sleep quality.
Can you expand on ashwagandha, the monarch of Adapt'Âscend?
One of the ways they measure the effects of adaptogens is they look at your stress hormone levels. When you get really stressed, your stress hormones go up, unless you've been stressed too long and can't mount a response anymore.
With ashwagandha, what you see is it lowers the stress hormones so they don’t have adverse consequences on our bodies and minds. If your system is exhausted and can’t generate much of a response any longer, it will increase the stress hormones (a good thing), not to the point where it makes you crazy, but to the point where it’s like, okay, now I can mount a response to my environment, to the workplace, to my travel plans. We call it amphoteric. Like Reishi—it has this biphasic effect. Ashwagandha can help you rest, but can also help you mount a stress response if you need it. This drives pharmacologists a little nutty because when they develop a drug, it's designed to be unidirectional. It's going to do one thing. The idea of biphasic pharmacology is only now coming into the awareness of modern medicine, yet it has always been an understanding in traditional systems of medicine.
Who will benefit from Adapt'Âscend?
A modern human. Anybody with a stressful lifestyle. On the other hand, anybody who doesn't have a stressful lifestyle but is looking for longevity. Both ashwagandha and Reishi are traditionally known for inducing longevity.
Should you take Immun’Attune when you’re sick?
The formula is designed to keep you from getting sick. You’re supporting the immune system. You're feeding it. White blood cells come from the bone marrow, and the monarch in this formula, astragalus, helps the production of proper white blood cells.
In the same way I talked about adaptogens and this biphasic effect, Immun’Attune is designed to do that. If your immune system's overly responsive, it's designed to bring it down, and if it's under-responsive or not fed well, it's designed to bring it back up. Ultimately it has a balancing and supportive effect on immune function.
We tend to think about immune function as being on or off, and that's really not accurate. It's a network of literally hundreds of types of cells communicating with each other saying, "Hey, do this, do that. Turn this up. Turn that down." Essentially, we're supporting that network. A lot of times when immune function goes awry, it's not that the whole system has gone down, but that a node in the network of one of the ‘servers’ somewhere, if we can use that analogy, has been compromised and starts sending out messages that don't make sense. So, the rest of the immune system is going, “I think he said go left." Some other type of cell is going, "I think he said go harder." I'm really into this idea of informational flow. Really, what we're doing is supporting that exchange of messaging.
A lot of the molecules that we're putting into the body and the immune system, think of them as messenger molecules. They're carrying messages in and supporting improved function. This is one of the things that pharmacology really hasn't gotten to yet. They're about, "Let's hit that target and knock it out. We'll inhibit this enzyme. We'll block this receptor or stimulate that receptor." What we're doing that’s different is supporting all that’s underneath that. Working with many of the players in physiology, with gentle interfaces, and not just single targets.
Any tincture hacks?
If I ate a really heavy meal, I might take an extra dose of Lâche-Lymphe. Fats can bypass digestion and go into the lymphatics directly.
What’s your favorite formula?
I love what we did with the echinacea in Lâche-Lymphe. You can feel that tingle, which I think is important. The alkylamides from echinacea are the piece that gives you the buzz in your mouth. You literally get a tingle in your mouth from trigeminal stimulation. There is also an endocannabinoid system hack with Echinacea alkylamides, calming the inflammatory process.
The beginning of ski season, when I throw my skis on my shoulder and walk to where I can snap them on and slide down the hill.
Favorite beauty food?
Plant-based essential fatty acids. When I was practicing full-time, people, especially women, would come in and say, “Oh my goodness, my skin quality is so much better.”
Do you have a special charm or talisman?
Well, yes. My, cat who's sleeping right next to me.