My name is Saravanan. In 2017, I founded Amura. Few months later, my erstwhile colleague Godwin, a medical doctor, and my son Yashwant, an English teacher, joined me as co-founders. My wife Ann gave us a big hand with whatever time she could muster outside her day job.
At home, Ann’s income brings us stability while I keep dabbling with one risky venture after another. In 2017, Godwin was half my age, and Yashwant was less than that. They were the only three people who were willing to take a bet on me.
While we lack pedigree and track record, we make up with sheer grit and hard work. Ann and I are yet to have a Sunday off from the time we started Amura. Godwin and Yashwant live a life that is only marginally better.
Right in the middle of COVID induced work/life balance frenzy, we assembled a team that is, like us, hungry for growth. You can go over to our team's page and read their Amura stories.
In 2001, on a trip to Maldives, I stumbled on a book titled Brain Longevity in Chennai airport. At Maldives, the Taj Hotels was breaking the grounds to erect a hotel on top of a coral island that was, maybe, three feet in diameter. I was there to help the construction crew mark the buildings on the mushroom top. After the sunset I had absolutely nothing to do. I could read that book from cover to cover before I got back home.
The book was written by an Alzheimer’s researcher. He was talking about how nutrition therapy and lifestyle changes seemed to be slowing down the progression of Alzheimer’s. He proposed that if these interventions could slow down Alzheimer’s, then they could very well slow down normal ageing of the brain in healthy people.
The idea that I could use nutrition to improve the cognition was fascinating. I went around asking my doctor friends to write me a prescription so I could get the nutrients suggested in the book.
One of them took pity on me and gave me a copy of CIMS, a directory of all drugs and nutrients sold in India. Doctors used to get free copies from the medical reps. I spent weeks, months and eventually years pouring through it.
That was my first brush with the power of nutrition.
I have a lucky gene running in my father’s side of the family. He died of a heart attack when he was 41. His father died of a heart attack when he was 40. I lost a few cousins to heart attacks around the same age. They all just keeled over and died.
When my dad died, I was in the second year of engineering and my younger sister was in the final years of her higher secondary school. She was to become the first doctor in our family. Instead, after dad passed away unexpectedly, she decided to take up his bank job as a clerk.
My grandfather’s death had worse consequences on his children. He was a senior civil servant with the pre-independence Singapore. After his death, my grandmother brought the kids back to India, bought a piece of land in her village and became a farmer. In a small place with very little mental stimulation, and a gene that predisposes all of us to addiction (I just channelize my addiction genes into my work), the kids became alcoholics.
I resolved not to let my family go through a similar fate. I ate sensibly, worked out when I could, never smoked, almost never drank and never put on weight. The heaviest I ever was 25 BMI.
But in the year 2002, in my mid thirties, my first ever blood test showed that my triglycerides were literally off the chart at 800+. I tried dieting and walking for a few weeks. Nothing changed. Then an endocrinologist put me on statins and fenofibrate. Things came under control in a couple of months.
Or so I thought.
In 2007, when I was on another business trip, I stumbled upon a book titled “Ageless” in the Muscat airport. The author interviewed many doctors from across the world. They thought out of the box to fix diseases that were otherwise considered incurable. Some of them were able to get visible slowing down of natural ageing.
Ann and I both devoured the book.
That was my first brush with the power of hormones. It was also my first brush with anti-ageing. Both are very fascinating subjects.
Back then, I was travelling to Muscat often and stayed there for many days at a time. Just outside the front door of the place I lodged, there was a McDonald’s restaurant, a Shell gas station and a Hyderabadi Biryani house.
Every day I was there, I had canned fruit juice for breakfast from the Shell station, a humongous portion of chicken biryani for lunch and a double-decker burger with fries and Coke for dinner. I had no clue of healthy eating.
To top it all up, I was also irregular on my cholesterol medication. Later that year when I went for my blood test, I was expecting bad cholesterol numbers. But the surprise was my blood sugar. The fasting blood sugar was at 150 mg/dL and my post prandial was at 250.
I had Type-2 Diabetes.
I was 41. The same age my father and his father died.
By then I was getting used to obtaining medical information from books written by doctors doing innovative work. So, I imported whatever books that were available on Amazon on type-2 diabetes (this was before Amazon set up shop in India). None of them made sense. Some of them, like the Reversing Diabetes by Neil Bernard, were outright lunatic. Even though they were being celebrated as a panacea for type-2 diabetes, they were just quackery.
So, I went out and got my first diabetic prescription, staring at the prospects of slowly sliding into an ever accelerating spiral of death (which is what type-2 diabetes is).
Then, it got worse.
My wife Ann grew up listening to dinner talks from one of her uncles, a medical doctor. She understood medicine so much better than I did (eventually I caught up with her). She had the forethought to get our son’s blood markers tested as well. He was a 10 years old, healthy, normal weight kid.
His triglycerides came out to be 400+.
We went to the same endocrinologist who put me on statins. He wanted our son to be put on statins too. By then, we knew that high-triglycerides is a harbinger of future type-2 diabetes. We imagined our son becoming a diabetic by the time he turned 20.
We were both devastated. But with all the books we were reading, I believed that there must be someone, somewhere in the world, who knew how we could help our son. So, I started attending international medical conferences, with the hope that I might discover our savior.
I used to be the only Indian and the only non-doctor in those conferences. The doctors attending these conferences were practising what Amura practices today. It was a small group of passionate, but brilliant, individuals. I hit it off with one of them. He put me and our son on nutrition therapy to reverse my type-2 diabetes and his high-triglycerides.
This was 2008. I never ever took even a single diabetic pill in my life. I remain diabetes free.
However, since 2008, more than 50 million people have died of diabetes all over the world. None of them knew that diabetes was reversible.
Think about it for a second before reading on.
The genius who helped us fix our health had written several books for medical practitioners about how nutrition can be used to reverse diseases. I bought them out of curiosity.
In one of the conferences I attended, I picked up an expensive book on administering hormone therapy, written for medical doctors.
For years, I would flip through these books once every few months, when I was running out of stuff to read. They were very hard initially. As I continued to read more medical books written for the lay press, reading medical textbooks was becoming easier.
All through my life, I was suffering from unexplained mood swings. I knew that something was not right, but not sure what it was. Despite working diligently, I was finding it impossible to build something of enduring value.
Things were so bad that true well-wishers were telling Ann that she should perhaps leave me. I am lucky that she ignored them.
I had no idea what was happening to me. But it did not look like my mood swings were a reaction to life events. I would suffer a burnout when everything was going well, and fall into an abyss. I would get back from the dead, brimming with energy, when things hit the rock bottom. It just didn’t make any sense.
I met a handful of psychiatrists. I thought I had bipolar depression and convinced one of them to put me on sodium valproate. It killed my creativity and I got out of it. One psychiatrist diagnosed me with clinical depression and put me on SSRIs. SSRIs made everything worse. It brought me every adverse side effect of SSRIs that there is.
Have you ever heard that luck prefers the prepared?
In 2009, I stumbled on to a podcast with an unusual title: ADHD will rule the world.
I couldn’t possibly imagine how these dysfunctional bunch of people were going to do anything of value, leave alone ruling the world. This was the click bait title before click bait titles. I gotta know what this guy was talking about.
The speaker explained how an ADHD brain is not short of attention. It had a surplus of attention, but only for the things it really cared for. He went on to explain many typical traits of someone with ADHD, including how they are often hyper-sensitive to many sensory inputs.
Sentence after sentence, this guy was talking about someone I knew very well: Me. Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined myself to have ADHD.
Eventually when I understood the condition well, I concluded that some idiot who had absolutely no idea of what is happening inside these brain type gave it a label and it stuck.
I went on to do what any true ADHD would do: Bought every book on ADHD and actually read them all (yeah, we are this all-or-nothing types). Then I made a three inch thick file on ADHD, on why I thought I was one, and what I thought were the treatment options.
From these books I discovered that I have (had?) a flavour of ADHD that includes symptoms like depression and bipolar. That was probably why the psychiatrists who worked with me were thrown off-scent.
I took my ADHD file, gave it to my then psychiatrist and told her what I found. And that if she agreed with me, she should put me on ADHD medication.
I was on sustained release methylphenidate for two years. It saved me.
Understanding ADHD helped me understand myself better. I went on to change my life to match the brain I have. I eliminated everything from my life that failed to excite me (and even gave a TEDx talk titled “Low Throttle Brain, High Octane Life”). It was possibly the best thing that happened to me till that point in life.
As a byproduct from this episode, for a non-medical professional, I now had an exquisite understanding of how the human brain works. This was in 2010.
Remember SSRIs wrecked me. I lost two years of my life because of that. Even worse. It completely messed up many of my hormones.
To fix it, I did what always worked for me in the past: Found all the books I could get on hormones and started reading them. But hormones are a much more complex subject and I had to read many books written for medical doctors. As usual, they started out hard. Eventually it turned out that all these books talked about the same things. After all, there is only one scientific truth and all books referred to it.
I tried to “teach” a few endocrinologists about my new found knowledge and got politely kicked out of their offices. I eventually solved it.
I have been on HRT for almost a decade now. I am mentally much sharper than most people my age. I think it is mostly because of the HRT (and to a lower extent, due to my high uric acid levels). Of course, without reversing my diabetes in 2008, HRT would not have been of any use.
Again, for a non-medical person, I now had a good understanding of the human endocrine system. This was in 2011.
Despite methylphenidate, still continued to fall in and out of depression for no apparent reason. With my periodic depressive episodes, all my efforts to build something of enduring value were getting interrupted once every few months.
No one understood why it was. All the books I read about brain science gave me no clue.
It was something that I had to live with.
By 2013, my blood sugar was slowly creeping up. The HbA1c was climbing up from 5.7, into 6.1, to 6.5 and eventually it crossed 7.
Just then, there was this news article in Times of India (of all the places) about how one Prof. Roy Taylor from New Castle University had published a research paper on reversing diabetes using a low calorie diet.
I read through the research, looked up what people were talking about online. His solution appeared easy and safe .
I started New Castle diet. In just six days, my fasting blood sugar dropped from 135 to below 100. After just 21 days on the diet, it was in the 80s for the very first time, ever.
Everyone at home was super-delighted.
Prof Roy Taylor suggests that after the diabetes reversal, one maintains an intake of about 1,600 kcal/d for the rest of their life. At that level, my performance at the gym was constantly coming down. I was losing muscles. I had to do something.
With a little bit more research, I discovered the ketogenic diet: If I ate a low fat diet, I could eat my usual calories, without becoming diabetic again.Easy, peasy.
Low carbs have become part of my life ever since (though, Amura diet is NOT a low-carb diet).
Then, somewhere in 2014, it dawned on me without warning that I was not falling into depression any more!
I was stunned.
There was the only connection I could think about: Getting on low-carb somehow fixed my depression!
I just didn’t know why.
In 2017, I fell ill with typhoid.
This happened after an extremely tough day at the gym. My cortisol system has always been weak and extreme exercise depletes cortisol. You need cortisol to fight any infection.
Something was wrong with the water supply that day. A handful of people in the neighbourhood fell ill with typhoid around the same time.
I was put on strong antibiotics for typhoid and they were wrecking the good bacteria in the gut. I wanted to find out how to restore them.
I had a few books on microbiome sitting in my Kindle, unopened. Now was a good time. In them, I stumbled on this gem:
If you have a poor distribution of gut bacteria, particularly if you had candida overgrowth in the gut, it could give you bouts of depression.
Candida is a fungal species. All of us have it in our gut. It troubles us only when their population increases. There are three reasons why candida population increases:
- If you have sub-optimal level of stomach acid
- If you eat a lot of carbohydrates
- If you had severe antibiotic exposure
I had all three risk factors.
When I was a kid I was put on penicillin injection for several months. Penicillin obliterates gut bacteria. Bacteria and fungi are mortal enemies (penicillin is extracted from a fungal species). Without competition from the bacterial population, candida (a fungal species) flourishes.
Candida can pry open the gut wall, starting a condition called leaky gut. Leaky gut can do many things, including depleting one’s cortisol reserves. The kind of cyclic depression I was having was the result of running low on cortisol once in a while. No wonder it did not respond to SSRIs (which try to fix a brain chemical called serotonin).
The body has a weapon against candida: Your stomach acid. The acid in the stomach can kill over-growing candida and keep it under check. But many of us Indians produce less stomach acid and I was one of them. That was probably another reason my body failed to bring the candida population under control.
There is more: We all need stomach acid to digest the protein in our diet. People with low stomach acid tend to eat less protein, particularly animal protein (which is a dense form of protein). Instead of protein, they tend to get most of their calories from carbohydrates. Like I was doing.
Candida loves carbohydrates. They flourish when you feed them carbohydrates.
It turned out that my typhoid was another lucky break. I now know why I was falling into unexplained depression all through my life. I also know why the depressive episodes went away after I started eating low carb.
Despite all the noise on gut microbiome, there is not a lot of science on the subject out there. I now know whatever little there is to know on the subject.
In 2017, while I was recovering from typhoid, I wrote a few posts in my blog about stomach acid and gut microbes. And a post about reversing diabetes. Then about reversing Alzheimer's (which I am yet to publish). Then about managing cancer.
That was when I realised that I had a good understanding of several systems that lead to chronic diseases. That people have been dying by the millions because standard care was inexplicably refusing to see well documented research studies sitting on the shelves for decades.
Few months later, Amura was born.
We all immensely enjoy what we do. We will do this for free all day long.
I would like to tell you that the enjoyment is in healing people. But I am not a doctor. I am a biohacker, who started out before biohacking became a bad word.. My drive comes from showing people new possibilities in life that they never even knew was possible. I draw an immense delight in helping people build themselves a second life. A second life that is better than their first, in any way that is meaningful for them.
That is why our tagline is “Change Your Story”. Not “Heal Your Body”.
Writing this full version of the story is a bad idea for many reasons:
- It is way too long; the shorter version I wrote earlier is a better fit as an origin story.
- It is an autobiography from someone who did nothing to earn it; I have nothing of value for you to learn from this
- It despise bringing my private life in to the public
- It is going to make our fund raising difficult. Already we have a disadvantage as we are a team with no pedigree or track record, founded by someone in his late fifties. Now the founder is a “reformed” depressive too?
Then, why am I writing this?
If you fall into any one of the following groups, you probably have no hope and usually no one cares
- Someone with mental illness
- Someone who has had a string of failures
- Someone who is past their prime
If you fall into any one of these three groups, when Amura succeeds, I want you to know that it is doable.