Insightful Wisdom: Eziah Syed Of Mend Exploring the Healing Power of Nutrition
Caloric Limitation: Substantial clinical data advocating for caloric limitation indicates that diminishing calorie consumption, while maintaining proper nutrition, can yield various health advantages. These may encompass enhanced longevity, improved metabolic well-being, weight management, heightened cognitive function, superior cellular health, and other positive effects.
In an age dominated by pharmaceutical solutions, there's a growing recognition of the incredible healing and preventive potential inherent in the food we consume. embracing the timeless wisdom that encourages us to view nourishment as both our remedy and preventative measure, how does this philosophy translate into our modern lives? can nutrition truly emerge as a powerful tool in the fight against illness and disease? crafting a dietary plan that not only supports health but also promotes longevity and overall well-being becomes a focal point of exploration. this series delves into discussions with nutritionists, dietitians, medical professionals, holistic health experts, and individuals possessing authoritative knowledge on the subject. as part of this enlightening series, we had the privilege of conversing with Eziah Syed.
Eziah Syed has dedicated his career to technology, strategy, and innovation, working with various large corporations and startups. Presently, he serves as the Co-Founder and CEO of mend™, a life sciences company at the intersection of digital health and nutripharma.
Before joining mend™, Eziah amassed a wealth of experience in senior innovation and strategy roles at Deloitte, Citibank, and Dynamics Inc. His expertise lies in innovation, new products, ventures, and identifying growth opportunities in unexplored areas, with a focus on technology-driven solutions.
Eziah pursued his undergraduate studies at McMaster University in Ontario and holds an MBA from the University of Western Ontario. Additionally, he has received training in design thinking and advanced corporate finance from New York University Stern School of Business and the University of Virginia Darden School of Business.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
Igrew up in Kingston, Ontario (Canada) which at the time of my childhood was a town of only 60 thousand people (it is now close to 600 thousand). I have three brothers with whom I argued regularly but with whom I also did all of my social and athletic activities. We were very active in sports with each of us reaching national level success competitively. My sports was basketball and I played point guard, winning both a silver medal and gold medal at the national level in our summer games. My brothers and I were close then and we’re close now — so much so that we literally only vacation together. My favorite subject in high school was calculus, I breezed through it but my teacher would regularly warn me about “slackitis” (unfortunately my attention was mostly on basketball and girls).
My mother had a very big hand in shaping who we are today — she was tireless in raising us. As such we call her “Ma di Dau”, you’ll have to watch the 2011 documentary “The Last Lions”, to understand that reference.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
I knew from quite an early age that I wanted to be a businessman, and I suspect it may have originated from seeing my father in action each day putting his suit on and heading off to work. He worked for Pfizer in pharmaceutical sales and business development and we grew up listening to him talk about the pharma business, science, human health and healthcare. I vividly remember him hosting business meetings in our home and admiring him and his colleagues. Somehow that visual of the board room meeting had an impact on me at a subconscious level and has stayed with me. Albeit today I prefer wearing jeans and a sports blazer to wearing a full suit.
Innovation is a domain that I’ve just naturally gravitated towards as is health and wellness. I draw energy from the process of conjuring up something new and seeing it come to life. Health and wellness has always been a passion as participating in competitive sports was a very big part of my life as a youth.
More recently my passion for human health and improving healthcare comes from illness experience in family. My mother is a cancer survivor (2x) and my brother survived a life threatening fall from an 80-foot waterfall. It was through their experiences with healthcare and other illnesses in family that got me thinking about gaps and how to address them.
It has been said that our mistakes can sometimes be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When you’re building something completely new, it’s a constant learning and optimization process. When we first started, my brother and I literally tried to formulate a nutrapharma product at home. To call it swamp gas in terms of its taste and odor might not be that much of a stretch. It wasn’t so much of a mistake (we knew we weren’t going to produce the actual product at home) as it was an experiment, but it did give us insights into just how complex a formulation and production process is. That leads to the very important lesson, in that there is no substitute for rolling up your sleeves and doing the work. Learning every aspect of your business hands on. I’ve been the chemist, the shipping department, the copywriting, the production manager, etc. at different points in the journey. And I wouldn’t change that if I were to do it over again. There is enormous value in getting into the weeds and learning your business.
You are a successful leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
Passion: any ambitious new effort will be a roller coaster ride of elation and adversity. A passion for your mission is what enables you to endure late nights and difficult hours, because they will surely come and come more frequently than you might anticipate. Passion is palpable and is sensed by your staff, by clients, by industry partners and by investors. I’m building something that I care about deeply and there’s just no faking it. I hope it comes through in the amount of energy and effort I put into my work.
Resilience: being an entrepreneur is not for the faint of heart. It challenges you to your core and requires one to be incredibly resilient as adversity awaits you at every corner. Just when you think you’re past the most difficult part of the journey, a new challenge comes your way. Resilience is having the grit and tenacity to be unfazed or discouraged by adversity. In the course of building mend, I have faced numerous challenges, some even potentially existential. Staying anchored in my love and passion for my mission and carrying a “must succeed” mindset has allowed me to weather the storms.
Humility: one cannot and should not embark on a difficult journey alone. Seeking the talents of others and help/counsel of others is vital. I know that my knowledge and experience is limited and has contours and that I need help from others and to be a student during the process — to absorb as much as I can, learn as much as I can and hold top of mind awareness of my own biases and blind sports. At mend I’ve surrounded myself with senior advisors and hired very high caliber people to whom I’ve given great responsibility and latitude. I have a very experienced board with whom I over index on sharing information and with whom I seek guidance and direction.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
We have developed a platform called Upgraid, which takes our food as medicine products and adds a behavioral support component enabled by digital technology but supported by real clinical experts. We have lifted this program in perioperative care to enable better surgical readiness and better surgical recovery and to relieve Providers of some of the stress they are under. The platform is a horizontal and can be lifted in both acute care as well as daily wellness environments. Our nurses, dietitians and other healthcare professionals guide the patient through precision care pathways leveraging the best evidence-based approaches and a whole person multimodal approach to enable healthy behaviors stick and last. Our platform was featured in a US News deep dive and Tech Times called it a best-in-class approach to digital health. We were also selected by Pitchbook as one of the leaders in Food as Medicine. We believe the convergence of Food as Medicine with behavioral support and monitoring enabled by technology will be a game changer in medicine and societal health.
OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview about cultivating wellness through proper nutrition and diet. To begin, can you tell our readers a bit about why you are an authority on the topic of nutrition?
I’m the Co-Founder and CEO of a company called Mend, which is a leader in the development of nutrapharma products and behavioral support programs that are being utilized in mainstream medicine. Our clinical grade nutraceuticals are developed in a pharma like manner in that we undertake a lot of clinical research and test the products for safety and efficacy in randomized placebo-controlled trials. At mend we have developed a very rigorous product development approach which encompasses pre-clinical work, testing for bioavailability and absorption, assessment of synergistic effects of compounds, randomized trials and independent third-party testing for both quality and safety. As the leader of the firm I need to stay current on all of the latest trends, science so I spend a lot of time reading studies and industry research. I have also surrounded myself a number of scientists and medical experts who are at the forefront of research in these domains.
We all know that it’s important to eat more vegetables, eat less sugar, etc. But while we know it intellectually, it’s often difficult to put it into practice and make it a part of our daily habits. In your opinion what are the main blockages that prevent us from taking the information that we all know, and integrating it into our lives?
This is precisely the reason that we have developed a behavioral support model. More than 60% of the calories in an average American’s diet is coming from processed and ultra processed foods and it’s hard work to break the bad habits we have developed. These inexpensive highly processed foods are literally giving us a dopamine spike each time we eat them, and this leads to an addiction and actual dependence. Our brains are being hardwired to repeat these patterns as our reward centers keep us craving the foods we’re trying to resist.
Contrast that with eating a salad. We don’t get that sugar high — the reward feedback loop can be so much stronger when we eat energy dense foods like fat and sugar. We don’t immediately see a health benefit as the benefits of eating salad as these benefits accrue slowly over time. So we’re not getting a dopamine spike and we’re not immediately seeing benefits so why not eat that donut because it’s so tasty.
We have to think about this problem through an evolutionary biology lens. The vast majority of our history was spent in high energy expenditure lifestyles as hunter gatherers and our biology was programmed to prize high energy foods due to scarcity. So we literally are biologically programmed to seek them out and crave them. These are entrenched biological mechanisms that have evolved over millions of years and developing the habits and discipline to counteract them is not as easy as we might think.
Breaking bad habits is eminently possible, however, and many people just need some help getting up the first rung of the ladder.
From your professional perspective, do you believe that nutrition plays a pivotal role in supporting the body’s natural healing processes and overall well-being, particularly in cases of chronic diseases? We’re interested in hearing your insights on the connection between a holistic approach to diet and its benefits for individuals facing health challenges.
There is absolutely no question that what we eat either feeds or fights disease. In the early part of the 1900s, the prevalence of chronic disease in adults was at roughly 7%, today it is at roughly 60% (with at least one chronic condition). If you look at the graphs of the rise in chronic illness and you overlay the graphs of the increase in consumption of highly processed foods and sugar, it’s a pretty telling story. For example, in the early to mid-1800s the average person consumed roughly 10 pounds of sugar annually, that number is now roughly 100 pounds — a 10x increase. Food has become an indulgence, and we don’t spend much time thinking about the functional utility and its purpose in fueling biological mechanisms. We view it as something tasty and to be enjoyed versus something that is going to fuel a biological process that can either enhance or harm our health.
There are certainly other factors that have contributed to the rise of disease, such as over exposure to stress and an increase in sedentary lifestyles, but nutrition is indisputably a core driver. Genes evolve over millions of years yet our diets have been utterly transformed in just the past few hundred years with the emergence of large scale production of processed foods. One of the areas being espoused by the nutrition community is to get back to eating foods that are as close their natural state as possible, in other words, eating more whole foods and less manufactured foods.
There are a variety of reasons why eating whole foods is healthier from the nutrient density in these foods to the amount of fiber to the absence of additives and preservatives. Satiety improves, digestion improves, energy improves, we gain less weight, hormones are more balanced, etc. When you are eating in a manner that your biology was designed for, you’re going to experience a lot benefits.
Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your research or experience could you share with us five examples of foods or dietary patterns that have demonstrated remarkable potential in preventing, reducing, or managing specific health conditions?
I believe a combination of following the five principles below can create enormous health benefits and even fight and reverse disease. Each of these is accessible to every single person.
1 . Caloric restriction: clinical evidence supporting caloric restriction suggests that reducing calorie intake, without malnutrition, can have a number of health benefits, including longevity, improved metabolic health, weight loss, improved cognitive function, improved cellular health and others.
2 . Intermittent fasting: the clinical evidence supporting intermittent fasting aligns with the findings of caloric restriction. Fasting can induce autophagy, a cellular process that plays a crucial role in maintaining the health and balance of cells. It involves the recycling and removal of damaged or dysfunctional cellular components, such as organelles and proteins, to ensure the cell’s continued function and survival. It’s a built in cleansing mechanism to remove debris and damaged cells.
3 . Anti-inflammatory and antioxidative foods: systemic, chronic low-grade inflammation and oxidative stress are at the root of many conditions and illnesses. This type of inflammation and oxidative stress increases in our body due to sugar, manufactured foods, stressors, aging. There are known natural compounds that fight inflammation and oxidation, such as curcuminoids, ginger, beet root, green tea and anthocyanins, and we can and should be more deliberate about increasing our consumption of foods with these compounds.
4 . Sugar moderation: as I stated earlier, we are now consuming 10 times the sugar we consumed not long ago. Sugar is hidden in many foods and we are now facing a blood sugar crisis. Moderating blood sugar has many health benefits including improved hormonal balance, improved energy, weight loss, improved sleep and several others. Added sugars in foods is causing us great harm and we need to become more vigilant about avoiding these foods.
5 . Whole foods: we have covered the topic of shifting our diets from manufactured foods to whole foods. Perhaps the most important unlock is to rebalance the amount of calories in our diet that come from manufactured foods to foods that are as close to their original form as possible.
Do experts generally agree that merely choosing healthy foods isn’t sufficient, but that understanding how to consume them is key to unlocking their full health benefits? (For example, skins on/off, or cooked/raw, or whole grain/refined grain) Could you provide advice on how to approach this and sidestep common errors or misconceptions?”
While it is true that the nutritive and health value of foods can be amplified and enhanced depending on form and method of use, I’m not a fan of trying to add complexity to a topic when there’s so much room for improvement in just getting the basics right. Can we amplify the anthocyanin content of blueberries by freezing them, yes, but is it necessary to freeze them to get the benefits of blueberries, no. I’d rather just focus on getting people educated on anthocyanins and the value of berries versus how best to prepare them.
As a society we need to help people to walk before we ask them to try and run. There have been so many fad diets, magic pills and so much contradictory health guidance (e.g. eggs are bad, eggs are healthy) that the vast majority of people feel disoriented by nutrition advice. Furthermore, we need to make healthy nutrition easier and more accessible, and not more complicated and less accessible. As one climbs up the ladder of healthy habits, one can become more nuanced about nutrition and employ more advanced strategies (I only recently learned that freezing blueberries increases their anthocyanin content and so I’m now freezing them before adding them to my smoothies).
With the recent prominence of nutrition’s integration into healthcare, what’s your perspective on the collaborative approach between medical professionals, health coaches, and nutrition experts when it comes to delivering holistic patient care? Can you please explain?
Roughly 90% of the $4.3 trillion that we spend on healthcare goes towards treating people with chronic conditions. We know the relationship between nutrition and health, yet our doctors get less than 20 hours of exposure to nutrition in medical school. This is quite frankly appalling.
Thankfully things are starting to change as more and more clinical data is published supporting nutrition’s role in medicine. For example, mend has published randomized trials in perioperative medicine showing that patient outcomes can be enhanced from targeted nutritional interventions. Our products are now being used in leading hospitals and have become standard of care. For example, if you go to Geisinger Health System and have a total joint, spine or trauma surgery, the hospital is going to give you two bottles of Mend as a part of your care plan. This is indicative of the change that’s coming, however, I think we need to move faster.
Doctors are trained in the gospel of evidence-based medicine and the gold standard is randomized trial data, which has historically been lacking in the nutrition world. Mend has been focused on developing a body of science that will get doctors to take notice and begin to embrace nutrition solutions as a core modality of care. We need to continue to invest in the science, research and education so that nutrition becomes an embedded part of mainstream medicine.
It’s been suggested that using ‘food as medicine’ has the potential to reduce healthcare costs by preventing disease severity. However, there’s concern about the affordability of healthier food options. What solutions do you believe could make nutritious choices accessible to everyone, ensuring that food truly becomes a form of medicine for all?
Our system is more than happy to cover the cost of grave illness and synthetic medicine but when it comes to nutrition, we balk. Recent studies published by the Tufts University and The Rockefeller Foundation suggest that “if patients on Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance with diet-related conditions like diabetes ate food nutritionally designed to stimulate their recovery, an estimated 1.6 million hospitalizations could be avoided annually. There could even be an estimated net savings of $13.6 billion in healthcare costs in the first year alone.” So we’re looking at the problem completely wrong, instead of looking at it as a cost, we should be looking at it as significant savings. If we’re spending $3.87 trillion on chronic disease and poor nutrition contributes significantly to these illnesses (they unequivocally do), than the opportunity for enormous ROI exists.
We need to immediately deploy programs to get nutritious foods to low income and food desert communities along with education and behavioral support. We need to start covering medical foods and evidence-based nutrition products that have published clinical data showing outcomes and reduced risk. As stated before, access and affordability alone will not solve the problem of breaking bad habits and creating new ones and people are literally addicted to ultra processed foods — we need to employ behavioral models if we are going to create lasting change.
Everyone’s body is unique, and what works for one might not work for another. How does one navigate the vast array of nutritional advice available today to curate a diet tailored to individual needs, ensuring health and longevity?
There are core principles that work for every single person and are not tied to differences in body or DNA. Ensuring one balances the energy expenditure, energy consumption equation is a principle that applies to everyone. Reducing processed food consumption and increasing whole foods consumption is a principle that applies to everyone. Reducing sugar consumption, increasing anti-inflammatory food consumption, are core principles. Getting to precision nutrition at scale is certainly a holy grail but we are nowhere close to that and we need to get the basics deployed at scale before we look at more sophisticated and complex models.
Access, education, behavioral support — these are the keys to unlocking societal health improvement at scale. Individualized precision nutrition can be a worthy long-term ambition however we need to urgently deploy scalable strategies in access, education and behavioral support.
As our understanding of the intricate link between food and health continues to evolve, we’re curious to know which emerging trends or breakthroughs in nutritional science excite you the most. How do you envision these advancements shaping the future of healthcare?
While the statistics on illness are a cause for serious concern and even despair, there is good news in that there is a tremendous body of research and science advancing in the realm of human health that I believe will create a lot of improvements.
As you have seen from answers to prior questions, I’m not a fan of adding complexity to the topic of nutrition as I think this added nuance only appeals to those who are already nutritionally conscious and deliberate about their choices. We need solutions that can have an impact on the masses and in particular in segments of society where illness is highest.
I’m excited about the deployment of medically tailored meals and produce prescriptions at scale. I’m excited about the deployment of nutrapharma products at scale. And I’m excited about deploying behavioral support models at scale. I believe these solutions will have a broad impact at a societal level.
I envision a model where medical meals, nutrapharma and behavioral support are a core part of conventional medicine — whether you’re in a primary care setting or in an acute setting, each of these modalities being utilized by healthcare professionals as a core part of a multimodal approach and philosophy of care. This will create profound changes and benefits.
How can we better educate the public about the medicinal properties of food, and what role do professionals like you play in this educational journey?
We believe education is one of our core remits as a company — both to educate the consumer and to educate healthcare professionals. For example, Mend partnered with the American Physical Therapy Association to create a foundational nutrition course for physical therapists. Physical therapists are front line workers and spend more time with patients than perhaps any other HCP. Arming them with knowledge on nutrition and giving them the tools to utilize nutrition to enable good musculoskeletal outcomes is critical in our view.
I’m an advocate of the government as well as NGOs taking on a much larger role in nutrition education as well as employers and community organizations. We also need to deploy early childhood education, so our children become indoctrinated in the principles of healthy eating. We need many actors playing an outsized and more active role if we are going to reverse this completely unsustainable trend that we are on that will drive a lot of unnecessary suffering and drive us towards healthcare insolvency.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
I’m on LinkedIn, we publish regularly in our blog at mend.me. I love engaging on the topic of health and wellness so I’m looking forward to chatting with your readers.
Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!
About the interviewer: Wanda Malhotra is a wellness entrepreneur, lifestyle journalist, and the CEO of Crunchy Mama Box, a mission-driven platform promoting conscious living. CMB empowers individuals with educational resources and vetted products to help them make informed choices. Passionate about social causes like environmental preservation and animal welfare, Wanda writes about clean beauty, wellness, nutrition, social impact and sustainability, simplifying wellness with curated resources. Join Wanda and the Crunchy Mama Box community in embracing a healthier, more sustainable lifestyle at CrunchyMamaBox.com.