Insightful Wisdom: Courtney Saye from Fertility Functionally Explores Food's Healing Potential
Rich in Omega-3s: Fatty fish is abundant in Omega-3 fatty acids, known for their inflammation-reducing properties across the body. Considering the heightened inflammation in women dealing with PCOS, incorporating Omega-3s into your diet proves incredibly beneficial.
Amidst the prevalence of pharmaceutical remedies, there's a growing awareness of the remarkable healing and preventive potential residing within food. The age-old adage, "Let food be your medicine and medicine be your food," resonates strongly. Yet, how does this philosophy apply in our contemporary world? Can nutrition genuinely serve as a robust defense against illness and ailments? How does one craft a diet that fosters health, endurance, and overall well-being? In this series, we engage with nutrition experts, dieticians, medical professionals, holistic health practitioners, and those well-versed in this domain. As part of this series, we had the privilege of conversing with Courtney Saye.
Courtney is a Certified Functional Health Practitioner specializing in fertility. Holding advanced training in gut, hormone, and thyroid health as an FDN-P, her practice, Fertility Functionally, adopts a functional approach to enhance fertility, aiding clients in conceiving and maintaining pregnancy. Her dedication lies in empowering clients through this functional approach and witnessing their families flourish. For more about Courtney, visit www.thrivefunctionally.com.
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 the Midwest in a quiet middle class community. My mom worked an office job for a small business and my dad delivered to grocery stores for Frito Lay. Everyone knew him around town. I like to think I got my mom’s fun sense of humor and my dad’s love for adventure. I have one younger brother who I spent most of my childhood treating like he was my own kid. We had two cats, a really sweet but horribly behaved dog, and lived in a lovely culdesac where neighbors became family. I was the first in my family to attend a four year university, where I met the man who would later become my husband.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
I always had an interest in health and wellness and also started dealing with headaches, GI issues, and hormonal problems at a young age. They continued to get worse as I grew in to adulthood. Doctors never really had any answers for the acne, digestive distress, or painful periods. They put me on hormonal birth control in my teens. Sometimes they would throw a prescription at things — birth control for hormonal problems, Accutane for acne, etc. Nothing ever helped and most meds caused more side effects than they were worth. Later on when we were growing our family, I suffered a second trimester miscarriage followed by years of unexplained infertility. It was one of the darkest periods of my life and impacted me deeply.
Years later when I was still suffering with all of these symptoms getting worse I finally found functional health. Through functional labs and training, I discovered that I had been living with undiagnosed PCOS as well as a number of other imbalances for years. I think it was never suspected because I am a normal body weight. I was so happy to finally have answers and so sad I didn’t have them years before. My fertility journey could have looked so very different if I’d only known what was brewing beneath the surface.
I got certified as a functional health practitioner and then went on to do advanced training in hormone, gut, and thyroid health. I knew I wanted to help people who were trying to grow their families and save them the pain of an experience like my own.
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?
Ah, funniest mistake. When I was first starting out, I thought I knew it all about diet and was preaching everywhere about how great a plant based diet is for everyone. I later learned that it was the root cause of some of my issues and had to eat my words. It taught me humility and that it’s okay to continue to learn and grow and change our minds as we continue to learn and grow.
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?
The three character traits that I think are most important for success in life are curiosity, grit, and compassion. I go into every new client relationship with curiosity and compassion for their unique situations. Most of them have never had a health care provider dig deep into their physical history, their mental health, and their hopes, and dreams. They’ve never had anyone go through their lifestyle factors with compassion instead of judgment. These traits help me build a trusting relationship with each client and in the end it helps fast track their healing.
Grit has gotten me through so many tough challenges in both my personal and professional life. I think that it has helped the most on my journey back to health. Healing the body is a process and it takes time, commitment, and focus on the end goal. Some days you want to give up. But I didn’t and my health turnaround was so worth it. I’m able to bring this experience to work everyday as my clients go through the ups and downs that inevitably come with a healing journey.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
The most exciting thing I’m working on right now is gathering data from clients with PCOS on their blood sugar. I have clients wearing continuous glucose monitors in my program and am hoping to gather interesting insights to help further speed healing for clients that are dealing with symptoms of PCOS and the infertility that can come with it.
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?
My core certification is through the Functional Diagnostic Nutrition Practitioner program. During the intensive training period we learn biochemically how food impacts every cell in the body. I also have advanced training on how nutrition impacts hormone, gut, and thyroid health.
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?
There are a couple of things at play here from what I see. First, people are leading incredibly busy lifestyles and taking time to purchase and make healthy foods at home is seen as near impossible. People don’t realize how simple eating right can be and associate cooking with a ton of time and effort. Once you learn how to do it simply and you start to feel so much better you don’t want to eat out.
The second challenge is that there’s much information being thrown at people. Food companies spend a ton of money on marketing their products as healthy. A lot of it is contradictory and people are confused about how they should be eating. Those are the two biggest challenges I see in my practice.
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.
Without a doubt it plays a pivotal role. I’ve seen people go from incredibly symptomatic — irregular and painful periods, infertility, skin issues, constipation, headaches, etc to vast improvements and a lot of the changes they made were in what they were eating. One area that I mentioned earlier that is of particular interest to me is clients with PCOS. These clients tend to have some level of insulin resistance. Nutrition plays a huge role in balancing blood sugar and helping them naturally reverse their symptoms.
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? If you can, it would be insightful if you could provide real-life examples of their curative properties.
1 . Quality Animal Protein: Red meat and eggs have been vilified for years as being a major health risk, when in reality they it is one of the most power packed nutritional options we have. Packed full of essential vitamins and minerals like b vitamins, zinc, iron, niacin, and selenium they are a real nutritional powerhouse. I was personally a vegan when I started my functional health journey and began to heal my PCOS. Through functional testing I found a ton of imbalances in my nutrient and mineral levels, gut, hormones, and thyroid. A large part of my gut healing came when I added in high quality beef and eggs and I’ve seen numerous others with PCOS go through a similar transformation.
2 . Fatty fish: Fatty fish contains Omega 3 fatty acids, which reduce inflammation throughout the body. Since inflammation is higher in women with PCOS, getting these omega 3s in your diet is super helpful.
3 . Gluten free eating. There is so much noise around this one, but here’s the science on it. The gluten protein causes inflammation and contributes to autoimmune diseases. Many experts believe PCOS is an autoimmune condition. My opinion is that it is, but regardless PCOS definitely results in inflammation and the gluten protein also adds to it. For gluten free eating to be worthwhile you have you choose nourishing whole foods instead. The mistake many make with this is going towards the “gluten free” alternatives on the shelves. These are typically laden with inflammatory oils and sugar and will negate your efforts.
4 . Not intermittent fasting. Intermittent fasting is so hyped in the wellness community and it is not helpful for all people. All of the studies on this were done on men. Women’s bodies and cycles are so different. Especially those with PCOS, as they are typically already suffering from blood sugar and hormonal imbalances. It’s fine to close the kitchen after dinner, but you have to get breakfast within 60 minutes of waking. Fasting in the morning is causing blood sugar and cortisol imbalances that lead to hormonal imbalances downstream. Choose a protein and nutrient rich breakfast with at least 25 grams of protein. As a side note on this one, have breakfast before your morning cup of coffee too.
5 . 100+ grams of quality protein daily. Most of us are getting far too little protein and in women with PCOS this can be a major contributor to imbalanced blood sugar and insulin resistance. We recommend 20–30 grams of protein with each meal and around 10 with each snack. Quality matters and I usually recommend grass fed beef, pastured eggs and chicken, wild seafood, raw cheese and milk, nuts, beans (if tolerated), and organic cottage cheese and greek fed yogurts to hit the target. We have clients start protein target and then fill their plates with a variety of colorful fruits and veggies.
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?
Most of us actually agree on the fundamentals. Eat real food that is as close to its natural state as possible. Whole fruits and vegetables, minimally processed meats, pastured eggs, and staying away from added sugar, alcohol, and a lot of grains. A lot of the details beyond this can depend on the individual.
My clients are all working on healing things we find in the functional labs and cooked, warm foods are easiest to digest. I recommend cooked foods where possible to take the stress off the digestive system during healing. I don’t typically recommend a lot of grains in the diet, but instead recommend potatoes and rice for starch. These principles are simple, but that doesn’t mean they are always easy to stick to in our busy days. It takes time, support, and practice to make these habits stick.
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?
The way I see it we all have to work together to help educate and implement integrative healthcare. I am a trained functional health provider; I was trained to dig for root causes via functional labs and client intake, create a customized healing plan, and work with clients to implement these plans. Traditional medical professionals are trained to diagnose and treat disease. Most are not trained to dig deep on root causes and heal those. Functional health practitioners fill gaps not served by traditional medicine, but we in no way replace traditional medicine. We serve different needs.
For example, my clients come to me to improve their fertility; they want to have a baby. Traditional medicine tells them to try for 6–12 months, then see a fertility specialist if it doesn’t work. That specialist will run tests on the reproductive system only and then likely suggest fertility treatments. They don’t want to wait and see. They want to start working to improve their changes for a healthy pregnancy right now. Or maybe they are at the point of fertility testing and gotten a diagnosis of “unexplained infertility” and know there has to be something causing the problem. Functional health fills these gaps and empowers clients with root cause information in these cases.
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?
Wow, great question. The US spends close to 18% of GDP on healthcare, which is twice as much as most western countries. We are also not a healthy population — our rates of disease and obesity top the lists. I believe there is a way to eat well and have it not cost a fortune. I recommend grass fed, organic, pasture raised for food when possible. But if you cannot afford that, you can still get great nutrients from conventional whole foods. The key is to stick to whole foods and cooking at home as much as possible. You can make a healthy meal; let’s say beef stew and a salad for the same price as a lot of fast food. There’s no reason that eating healthy has to break the bank.
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?
This is so true, we are all bio individual. That said, the vast majority of people do well on a whole foods diet where they focus on getting adequate protein and filling the rest of their plates with nutrient dense produce. Typically when clients present with food sensitivities these are actually a result of an underlying gut issue. Once we heal that dysfunction the sensitivities go away in the vast majority of cases.
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?
Logic is fast and science is slow. I am most excited for the science to continue to catch up with what many of us already see in the functional space; gut health matters immensely. As the science on the microbiome continues to develop we get more and more data supporting the principles of a high quality whole foods diets with a lot of variety. We have more knowledge now about how gut health impacts hormone health, brain health, reproductive health, and the strength of our immune systems. I mean, if you’d have told someone that fixing their gut health would help them get pregnant even 15 years ago they’d look at you like you were insane! But now we have scientific data showing that the gut microbiome impacts every stage of fertility! It is exciting.
I envision the gap bridging between traditional medicine and functional fertility looking like this; you go to your doctor and let them know you are ready to grow your family. They refer you to a functional provider like myself right away to run functional labs and work on the findings. That puts you in the best possible position for a healthy pregnancy and baby and you start trying after this. Yes, some will still need fertility interventions, but post root cause healing you’ve put your body in a better position for that too. There are so many other areas of medicine where functional providers can fill gaps in traditional medicine — IBS/IBD, chronic fatigue, acne, headaches, thyroid dysfunction and more.
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?
The main message we need to get across is that with every bite of food and sip of a drink you are either healing or harming your body. I try to keep the messaging around food as medicine very simple: if we look at how our great grandparents ate and get closer to that, we are headed in the right direction. Keep meals simple with quality protein, produce, and a little starch and don’t overcomplicate it. Shop the edges of the grocery stores and avoid processed food and seed oils. Ignore all of the “latest and greatest diet trends’’ and stick to real food.
My role in this is to help my clients implement these and other lifestyle changes. Change is hard and working with a practitioner gives you ongoing support along the way. I strive to continue to reach more and more people with this message. To teach them that this doesn’t have to be hard or complicated and that diet is one of, if not the most important thing they can do for their health and longevity.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
I’m pretty active on Instagram @fertilityfunctionally and occasionally on TikTok @fertilityfunctionally. I also share content on my website (www.thrivefunctionally.com). The easiest way to stay up to date on the latest and greatest is to join our community from the website.
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.