BY PAKSY PLACKIS-CHENG
What do you do when one day you can’t hold your pen, suddenly suffer from severe headaches, and all three of your children become sick with different symptoms? For two years, the founder of Nutmeg Aspirin, Mara Landis saw 45 doctors and her symptoms were brushed off as psychosomatic.
Mara Landis was determined to get well. Her journey led to launching a platform where people can help each other to “feel, get, and be better.”
She spoke with impactmania about her wake-up call, partnering with Brown University, and two simple steps you can take to feeling, getting, and being better.
What spurred you to start your company Nutmeg Aspirin?
Unfortunately for many of us, it’s usually a wake-up call. You hit rock bottom. Your life is spiraling out of control. My wakeup call was toxic mold in our apartment.
For two years of my life, I lived with these crazy symptoms. It started off with severe headaches and horrible mood swings. I’d wake up every morning feeling like a Mack truck hit me. Then the brain fog; I had zero recall.
I started noticing different things going on in my family. My oldest had strep throat eleven times in one year. My middle child was speech delayed. My youngest was just a baby at the time so I didn’t really know how it was impacting him, but he now has ADD and I always wonder if the mold had something to do with it. My husband lost almost 20 pounds. There was no reason for it.
We saw, cumulatively, 45 doctors over two years. I was determined to find out what was wrong with me. Everybody basically said, “You have Lyme disease or you’re crazy or depressed, it’s psychosomatic.”
I was in the grey area and when you’re in the grey area, you’re lost and the only person that’s going to help you is you.
Eventually, an acquaintance read an article about mold, and said, “Oh my God, this is Mara.” I had the apartment tested. Sure enough, we had very high levels of stachybotrys and aspergillus, which are the two really bad molds.
Nutmeg Aspirin was a product of this journey of getting better. What I found was that I fell deep into learning everything about healing — mind and body led to spirituality.
How did you go from being sick to creating an online community?
While I was doing all this research, I was bursting at the seams to tell everybody about what I was learning. I didn’t know what else to do with all this knowledge, so I started blogging as a forum for all my learning. I connected with all these other people who had gone through a healing crisis, and come out the other side.
Most of them, like me, had turned towards alternative treatments and modalities to get better. They too were in the grey area of medicine or the side effects of the pharmacological drugs they were taking were just too great. They wanted to explore other ways. They wanted to feel, get, and be better.
What are you building that you didn’t see out in the market?
Living in this very mainstream world where, particularly in New York, everybody looks at the degrees of their doctors and where the doctors are in the hierarchy of the hospital. People think they’re going to the best of the best, and they are. But the doctors don’t have the time to do the breadth of research as to what’s going on out there. They’re just getting by with seeing their patients.
The doctors aren’t aware of all the alternatives — all the possibilities and options that not only alleviate symptoms, but can fully heal. Or they write off success stories as anecdotal.
After we discovered the mold, every doctor said, “I don’t know what to do for you.” And when I got better and shared how, I was met mostly with eye rolls or “Great. So happy for you,” but no curiosity. Their disinterest shocked me. What if another patient presented with similar symptoms?
I think we all fantasize that we are simply going to sit next to someone, tell our story and they will say — “Wow! Where have you been…I am going to build a platform for you to share your story.” That never happens. Nobody built that platform for me; I wanted to build that platform for everybody. To validate people’s experiences…that we are the drivers of our own destiny. To help empower people to take charge of their healing and their well being.
Tell me a bit more about what people can expect on Nutmeg Aspirin.
Nutmeg Aspirin is a place for anyone to share what works for them. What people share, we’re calling possibilities. They’re not cures, they’re not answers.
We’re just saying that this is an option that you might want to try out. Often, they’re no-brainers, there’s no harm in trying this. When people read these possibilities, we ask the community to engage and react: “It works, nope, so-so, going to try.” It’s our way of policing the crazy things from the things that truly have worked.
If you’re dizzy and have a head rush, press the point right above your lip, that takes the dizziness away. That’s super easy and why wouldn’t you try?
You partnered with Brown University for research. Tell me about that.
I want to make that connection for a lot of people who are just not quite there yet. But understand that science, even universities are looking into this.
I approached Brown, and said, “I’m interested in connecting with your scientists or creating a center for well-being and holistic health.” We met, two years ago, and we threw around some ideas. At first we were going to be looking at empathetic communication between doctors, which interested me, but didn’t really excite me.
While we were in this meeting, the researcher, her name was Dr. Catherine Kerr, I say, “was” because unfortunately she passed last fall. Cathy looked at the room with people; it was probably four or five of us.
She said, “I’m going to tell you a story but it does not leave this room.” She told us that maybe 20 years earlier she was diagnosed with multiple myeloma and given six months to live.
There was no treatment that would work for her. Someone connected her to a Qigong Master and she went full on into Qigong. She was convinced it saved her life. I asked, ”Why keep it a secret?” She replied, “In medical school we need to maintain an air of invulnerability.”
Because I so appreciate the space that people are coming from, I realized in that moment, if we were going to do anything, and if Cathy was going to lead the research on this, she needed to be vested in it from her heart, too.
We decided to look at energy medicine through the lens of Qigong, because that’s what she knew. There are so many different ways to get to the ultimate result of feeling better, that I said, “Absolutely, let’s study Qigong.”
Unfortunately, Cathy passed. She made it 20 years when she was given six months to live, but she did have a recurrence. She said she went off her Qigong protocol and she stopped her work, but one year prior, she shared her healing story at the Contemplative Studies Conference in Boston. That air of invulnerability was gone and her speech received a standing ovation.
Cathy was one of the foremost researchers in mindfulness meditation. Her team at Brown has picked up where she has left off. Cathy had also convened a board of scientific advisors from around the country, including Sara Lazar from Harvard, and Dr. Lorenzo Cohen, University of Texas MD Anderson. They are still on board, helping to continue the work.
Any preliminary findings of the project you can share?
The Vitality Project is an ongoing clinical trial. The first round occurred last fall. Nothing official yet as analysis still needs to be done, but preliminary reports are very exciting. Over ten weeks of Qigong training, they saw amazing changes in the participants. Everybody in the study was a cancer survivor. They’d gone through surgery, chemo, and radiation. They were dealing with extreme fatigue. And for the purpose of the study, we were just looking at fatigue. The reason we looked at fatigue as our marker is because any time you look at something as a cure, it brings in a whole other realm of frenzy and criticism.
What they discovered was that one woman had diabetes in addition to the cancer and blindness from the diabetes. She reversed her blindness.
We had people who reversed neuropathy, a huge issue after chemo. We had people say that during the ten-week Qigong classes, they didn’t think about themselves as a cancer survivor. They forgot about their cancer.
We are continuing the study to reach a larger number of people and are looking forward to sharing the results. The relationship with Brown has been incredible. They’re also extremely supportive of Nutmeg Aspirin. I’m stunned with how open minded these researchers are.
Some of them are the top neuroscientists in the world, and they get this. They are incredibly open-minded towards alternative healing therapies. They understand science has been slow to recognize the validity of holistic approaches, but that is changing thanks to leaders like Cathy Kerr. Just look at all the science proving the value of mindfulness meditation and other important healing forms, so that’s very exciting.
What has been surprising learning to you as an entrepreneur?
I shouldn’t be surprised by the amount of learning, but I am so surprised by the amount of learning! Building a company and a website… I did not grow up in an online world! I got lucky that everything fell into place. But I had some real stop and starts. I wasted a lot of money down some paths that didn’t work.
I now know what the determining factor is if I’m ever going to look at anybody’s business and assess whether or not I think it’ll make it or not. Determination, passion, and you’ve got to be on a mission.
You’ve mentioned a few impact makers already. Who has had an impact on your professional DNA? I’m sure there’s been so many, if you would have to name one person who would it be?
My Dad. I’ll start crying.
What has he said or done that you take with you to work every day?
My Dad taught me to question everything. Sometimes it pissed me off because he was somewhat of a Debbie Downer and would always give the contrarian view. Even when he questioned what I was doing with Nutmeg Aspirin, it didn’t deter me. I’m very grateful to him because that also ignited a fire in me. As frustrating as that was, it taught me that this is where my curiosity comes from.
He owns a biotech company and he’s very interested in looking at things on a nano level and trying to do his part in improving the world.
Then, on a macro level, my God, Oprah. We all love Oprah. It’s amazing how consistently she can come out of every conversation with a sense of sharing from her heart and caring.
As celebrities go, they can get caught up in the ego. Even in the spiritual community, there can be this whole competition: who’s more connected to God! I give Oprah a lot of credit, she doesn’t make herself superhuman.
The point of Nutmeg is that I’m leveling the playing field. You can be a truck driver, schoolteacher, starlet out in L.A. — you’re still a human being.
You are still on this journey and you’re still struggling. It doesn’t matter what it might be, whether it’s an auto-immune disease, anorexia, grief, or insecurity.
One of the things that I have said on the site is that when we dare to share, people care.
Give me something your father has said.
He always says to me, “Look to see more than anybody else can see.” How do you see between the lines? What is really going on behind there? Because, particularly in our facade generated world, which is what social media is, what’s behind that mask?
Also in medicine you have to see more than anyone else, right? Doctors have to see beyond their specialty.
That is the whole point. In some ways, doctors are extremely intuitive. They get a sense of what’s going on with you. From a spiritual perspective, doctors are driven by their intuition and then with hard data. The issue is that doctors are trained in medical school to be pharmacologists.
I was at the doctor’s office the other day and someone was talking about his allergies. I heard the doctor list all the different drugs that he could take.
And, of course, I’m thinking, “Well, I’m not going to contradict him.” That’s the school that he went to. There are all the other things people could be doing to help their allergies. Whereas Brown now has mindfulness training for all their medical students. They are trail blazers.
Give me a few words that describe your journey so far.
The first word that came to mind was tenacious. I think my tenacity was fostered by my determination to get better.
So I would say tenacity, caring — you really have to care. I genuinely care when someone sits next to me says they’re dealing with this or that. I want them to know that they can feel better. Even if I have to convince them to believe that they can feel better.
And being smart. Because I straddle the mainstream and the wellness world — you need to know how to approach the mainstream to set the wheels in motion.
What is one baby step that people can take to start feeling, getting, and being better?
Breathing. Learn how to breathe. Or the second you feel overwhelmed, relax your shoulder blades. You become instantly present.
If your shoulder blades are up around your shoulders, hunched or lifted, you’re not present. So even if you’re walking down the street, know where your shoulder blades are. Relax them.
The other thing that I love that is the best quick fix is Dr. Weil’s 4-7-8 breaths. You breath in for four, you hold for seven, you breath out for eight. You do that four times and you will be relaxed.
This is the point of the site. How easy are those tips? Your doctor’s not going to tell you that, it’s not the space that they’re coming from.
You can incorporate these things that will help you to feel okay. Then when you do need the serious stuff, be more open-minded. Sometimes it’s conventional medicine; sometimes it’s an alternative, whatever works.
That is why it is Nutmeg ≈ Aspirin. It’s a little of this, it’s a little of that. It’s whatever works with a mathematical substantial equivalent sign in between.