Women In Wellness: Dr Elena Gross On Five Lifestyle Tweaks That Will Help Support People’s Journey Towards Better Wellbeing

Women In Wellness: Dr Elena Gross On Five Lifestyle Tweaks That Will Help Support People’s Journey Towards Better Wellbeing

You do have to be a certain type to become a good CEO. You must learn and work on your weakness and improve, but it is ok to be you!

Today, more than ever, wellness is at the forefront of societal discussions. From mental health to physical well-being, women are making significant strides in bringing about change, introducing innovative solutions, and setting new standards. Despite facing unique challenges, they break barriers, inspire communities, and are reshaping the very definition of health and wellness. In this series called women in wellness we are talking to women doctors, nurses, nutritionists, therapists, fitness trainers, researchers, health experts, coaches, and other wellness professionals to share their stories and insights. As a part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Elena Gross, PhD.

Dr. Elena Gross, PhD has a BSc in Psychology (University of York), an MSc in Neuroscience (University of Oxford) and PhD (Dr. sc. med) in Clinical Research (University of Basel) and is the founder and CEO/CSO of the Swiss life science startup KetoSwiss. Elena used to be a chronic migraine patient and due to the lack of tolerable and efficacious solution, she decided to study this debilitating disease and discovered the key role of metabolism in migraine, which changed her life and led to the invention of MigraKet, the world’s first migraine medical food. Her start-up has been awarded several prizes, she has publications in high-ranking journals (such as Nature Neurology) and she is the inventor of four patents. Elena is the author of the book “How to master migraine — a metabolic guide to nourishing the hungry brain”, which should be published later in 2024.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers would love to “get to know you” better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?

Ihave suffered from migraine since I was 14 years old. In the early days, I went to many different doctors and specialists with my parents. Unfortunately, none of them could really help me. At times, they even suspected that I might have a brain tumor. But then eventually the diagnosis “migraine” was confirmed at a specialized Migraine and Headache Clinic. My only reference to the condition at the time had been a German movie for kids which defined migraine as “a headache that doesn’t exist.” With some attacks being stronger than any pain I had ever experienced, migraine felt very real to me, and I soon learned that over 1 billion people in the world, predominantly female, were in the same unfortunate situation as me. This statistic was validating for me. Surely, I thought, if something is seriously affecting every 7th human on earth and is the number one disabler of women under 50 years old, we must have a good understanding and solution to this issue.

However, this assumption turned out to be wrong. Despite all my efforts, medications and alternative approaches such as acupuncture etc., it didn’t get any better. On the contrary — it got worse. As I was completing my bachelor’s degree, my migraine had progressed into chronic migraine. On average, I was in pain on over 20 days a month. As a result, I had to spend a lot of time in dark rooms. I simply didn’t know what to do with my pain, it was hardly a life worth living. So, one thing quickly became clear to me: if I was going to suffer so much myself, I at least wanted to dedicate myself to migraine research and find out exactly what migraines are and what can be done about them.

Initially, I started doing research in the field of neuroscience, particularly in the area of migraine. Towards the end of earning my Master’s degree, I stumbled across a treatment for epilepsy. I tried it out with a lot of trial and error and eventually things got better. Being able to manage my condition has been the biggest blessing of my life, but other patients are not that fortunate. I knew that I wanted to do my Ph.D. in this field to eventually help other patients. I then had the opportunity to take part in a pilot project in Basel, Switzerland, where I was able to collect my first data. It was so promising that this project became my main PhD dissertation. Initially I thought that as “only” a scientist, I would go to big pharmaceutical companies with the initial data, and they would bring this solution to market. When I realized eventually that pharma had little interest in safe, human-identical compounds, the idea of founding a start-up myself and bringing this potential solution to other patients like me, started to grow in me. And so, through a few fortunate circumstances, KetoSwiss was born to develop MigraKet, the world’s first medical food for migraine, operating on two important principles: 1) Do no harm, 2) Let food be thy medicine.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? What were the main lessons or takeaways from that story?

There are so many things that have happened since I started going into this field, however, the most interesting to me was stumbling upon a rather large yet undefined migraine subtype. We call it “metabolic migraine”, as we found inflammatory and other metabolic markers to be suboptimal in this subgroup. While this finding still needs to be replicated, in metabolic migraine suboptimal metabolism and mitochondrial dysfunction (the powerhouses of the cells) seem at the core of the issue and this also fits well with the observation that migraine trigger factors can be connected to energy metabolism. There are not many migraine subtypes, and they are mainly based on certain symptom clusters (for example the presence or absence of a so-called migraine aura, a phase of visual disturbances preceding the attack), rather than causal factors. Identifying specific subtypes should help with disease management. In this case someone with suboptimal metabolism will respond better to a metabolic intervention. There is probably no “one size fits all” solution in migraine — or any other neurological or psychiatric conditions — but completely personalized approaches are often very expensive. This assumption is supported by the first patients taking MigraKet and their feedback is what keeps me going and is the best part of my job.

What are the key takeaways from this for me? 1) Challenge the status quo and be open to doing things differently, 2) Find a realistic middle ground when possible 3) Listen to your patients / customers.

It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about a mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Trust is good, control is better. This was a hard learning lesson for me and something I did not want to believe for a while. Early on with little experience I tended to trust the experts over myself, but this attitude sadly proved to be wrong many times. I realized I cannot really trust anyone fully without strong vested interest in my business to do a good enough job and even then, it seemed necessary to internally check everything. Humans are humans because they make mistakes, and even if you trust them, you must check and control everything that comes from external (and sometimes even internal), otherwise many results will not turn out as you hoped for. Even the most “stupid” mistakes will happen . Early on they can endanger your business and they will happen even from those whom are the experts or veterans in each field. For the most important aspects, there is no other option than sending the person with the most vested interest to check and that person is most likely yourself.

When it comes to health and wellness, how is the work you are doing helping to make a bigger impact in the world?

I strongly believe that my biggest accomplishment is changing our understanding of migraine. My work has been published in prestigious journals, including Nature Neurology Reviews, and I have filed three patents, one granted. I see migraine as a powerful warning signal from the body telling us that something is wrong, such that there is an energy deficit in the brain. Knowing this, and with the right tools to resolve the deficit, we can target the root cause of this painful condition rather than just the symptom: pain.

This led to the development of MigraKet®: one tool we can use to restore the brain’s energy. This medical food is used to address the dietary management of migraine. Crafted with high quality, bio-identical ingredients, MigraKet® supports optimal brain metabolism through clean, natural nutrition using clinically tested ingredients. We just launched MigraKet in the US, so hopefully we can help many more migraine sufferers manage their migraine. I also try to be an advocate where possible and I have finished writing a book on how to master migraine metabolically.

In addition to migraine, we are already moving to other conditions of the brain, including mental wellbeing, which can also be tightly connected to energy metabolism. Defining metabolic subgroups of common neuro-/ psychiatric diseases, where the root cause of the issue can be addressed and changing the way we manage these conditions could really have a big impact on health span and general wellbeing world-wide.

Can you share your top five “lifestyle tweaks” that you believe will help support people’s journey towards better wellbeing?

1. Keeping blood sugar stable

A common problem in today’s world is that of reactive hypoglycemia, which basically means that your body’s glucose thermostat is broken. In response to carbohydrate or glucose ingestion, it responds too late and then sends too much insulin, which in turn will remove more glucose from your blood than you ingested, leading to reactive hypoglycemia — low blood sugar. Stable blood sugar has many potential positive effects, the most important one is stable energy supply, in particular for the brain. This can lead to reduced shakiness, brain fog and cravings and hunger. A reduction in the release of stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline and a positive effect on your electrolyte balance can also be consequences of keeping blood sugar stable.

This is possible, for example, with a low-glycemic index diet, a low-carb diet or a ketogenic diet. You should also avoid highly processed foods with lots of sugar. A constant energy supply is a foundation for wellness.

2. Strengthen your antioxidant capacity and reduce oxidative stress

Oxidative stress refers to the build-up of a particular family of reactive molecules in the body called reactive oxygen species (ROS). You can think of ROS like the proverbial bull in a China shop: unstable, dangerous and wreaking havoc. They bump around causing all sorts of damage to the proteins (enzymes), lipids (membranes) and nucleic acids (DNA) that make up every part of each cell.

Antioxidants are helping us to fight oxidative stress. ‘Antioxidant capacity’ refers to your personal ability to get rid of or neutralize reactive oxygen species. It depends to a large extent on your genetic background and your ability to make potent enzymes that can scavenge the ‘baddies’. The good news is that even if you are born with a suboptimal antioxidant function, by changing your lifestyle for the better you can at least help your body to make more antioxidant molecules.

So here we have two levers that we can work with. On the one hand we want to incorporate methods that strengthen our antioxidant capacity. On the other hand, we want to employ strategies that reduce the oxidative stress levels themselves.

To reduce oxidative stress, we also have to reduce the toxic load. This also includes processed foods and toxins that come via diet, water, air, but also perfume, fragrances and other toxins on a chemical side. This also includes psychological stress and toxic relationships, which also increase oxidative stress. Lastly, on the physical side it means not overdoing exercise. One rather intuitive sounding, but very important concept for reducing oxidative stress is pacing, which simply means not using energy up faster than your mitochondria can supply it. As oxidative stress is one of the most important drivers for aging and disease, keeping it in healthy ranges is super important for wellness.

3. Optimizing micronutrients

To produce sufficient amounts of energy (ATP) our mitochondria require all sorts of things to function properly. Much like a car engine needs air and oil as well as petrol, mitochondria also need more than just fuel. Our mitochondria engines will be able to run at maximum capacity, and with as little wear and tear as possible, only if the necessary micronutrients and co-enzymes they need to function are available.

Adequate nutrient levels, such as minerals and trace minerals (Cu, Mn, Zn, Se, Fe, Mb, Cr), water-soluble vitamins (C, B1m B2, B3, B5, B6, B12, folic acid, biotin), fat- soluble vitamins (E, D, K, A) and others (co-enzyme Q10, L-carnitine, amino acids, glutathione, omega-3 fatty acids, alpha-lipoic acid etc.) are essential for mitochondrial function as they play important roles in energy metabolism.

The body can synthesize some of these nutrients itself, but many of them are essential, which means they must be ingested via our diets. Therefore, a high-quality, wholefoods diet is so important for good mitochondrial functioning, though it might not always be enough. Some patients in particular use up far more micronutrients than a healthy person and might need more of certain substances than even the best diet can give them. High quality products that use bioidentical ingredients can be a real game changer in supporting wellness.

4. Alternative energy source for the brain

There are in fact only three molecules that can adequately feed the brain: glucose, lactate and ketone bodies. On a carbohydrate rich diet, the brain’s primary source of energy is glucose. However, we know that the brain can derive up to 70% of its energy from ketone bodies. They are small fatty acid-derived metabolites, which are produced by the liver during times of fasting and can serve as an alternative fuel when glucose availability is limited. These would be referred to as endogenous ketone bodies, meaning produced by your body. The other way to ramp up your ketone levels is by providing your body with bio-identical exogenous ketone bodies taken in the form of high-quality products.

Ketosis can be very beneficial if your glucose metabolism is impaired, in addition, ketone bodies provide more ‘energy-rich ATP’ with lower oxygen demand and lower free-radical generation, and they can act as potent antioxidants and more. Ketone bodies have great potential to promote general wellness for these reasons. MigraKet was designed to address these 2–3 by providing most of the nutrients one would need to for optimized wellness, with the exception of Omega/Fish oil.

5. Listen to your body

This might sound silly, but as a culture we generally have forgotten how to really tune into what our bodies need at a given time. Babies are still very intuitive, they eat what they need, rather than what they have been conditioned to want, they sleep when tired and will let you know if something else is not right. Modern adults tend to eat and want what they have seen on television, what they have become addicted to (food, phones, games etc) or what an authority figure is telling them. We are no longer eating only when hungry and the foods that we are craving naturally, but we eat when we are bored, stressed, emotional. We stay awake because we need to work, socialize or otherwise instead of sleeping when tired — and so on. We listen to scales, lab tests, smart watches and others more than our own body and I think learning to listen to what it needs and is telling us again could greatly enhance our general wellbeing.

If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?

Like a plant without water or a car without petrol, without energy literally nothing in your body works. Improving energy metabolism is the number one tool for increasing both health span / longevity and overall wellness and yet it is still mostly overlooked. Mitochondrial dysfunction (the powerhouses of our cells not working properly) is something that can be found in almost any common non-communicable disease. I believe it is the number one common denominator and needs much more attention. Strategies to improve energy metabolism (as described before) will also come with a reduction of oxidative stress and toxins (a prerequisite for improving energy metabolism), which will contribute further to making both us and the world a healthier place.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?

  1. Being a CEO and a founder comes with a lot of responsibilities. There will be hard decisions that you will have to make alone. It can be lonely on top. I was always super resilient, a solid sleeper, and never had any anxiety or other psychological issues, and yet even for me the pressure at times is so high that I started to develop sleeping problems and I now know what anxiety is, both of which are super new experiences to me, and I did not see it coming. Having a support network, good sleeping hygiene and other ways to deal with stressors and the pressure are essential for not crashing under the pressure.
  2. How difficult hiring talent would be, especially outside of your area of expertise and how to best address this issue. This would have spared me from a time waste and some uncomfortable situations.
  3. You do have to be a certain type to become a good CEO. You must learn and work on your weakness and improve, but it is ok to be you!
  4. That everything will take longer than you think that I need to always add more buffers than I think is needed and that this is truly a marathon and not a sprint.
  5. For a solution to become a pharmaceutical, efficacy is not the most important factor. In addition, true disease prevention is not always the best business model. whether a molecule is novel and with substance of matter patent protection and addresses one target / disease pathway seems the most important and generally speaking pharma does not seem to be interested in naturally occurring human identical molecule with multi-pathway effect.

Sustainability, veganism, mental health, and environmental changes are big topics at the moment. Which one of these causes is dearest to you, and why?

I care a lot about sustainability, but I would say the biggest topic for me right now are environmental changes, however, in the scientific / medical sense of the word. Anything that is not your genetic code (DNA) is considered part of your environment; for example, the food you eat, the surroundings you grow up in, the people you spend time with or even birth itself. The interaction between your genes and your environment is called epigenetics and is a growing and very exciting field of study.

By changing your personal environment, this means for example toxins, food, light stress, micronutrients, ketone bodies and more, you can change how your genes are expressed and hence also your susceptibility to disease and overall wellness. This is a VERY hopeful message, because most very common health issues are too common to be the result of dangerous mutations in your DNA, but rather they are a result of a “mismatching” because your genes and a suboptimal environment. For the most part, you are in control of your personal environment. Changing your personal environment for better health has the potential to even change the larger environment for the better, if more and more people opt for healthy, sustainable, toxin free solutions in all aspects of life.

What is the best way for our readers to further follow your work online?

MigraKet socials:






Thank you for these fantastic insights! 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.

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