Nirav: It all started when I got a bad case of eczema during my sophomore year at NYU. I took the train home for Thanksgiving and was immediately taken to a dermatologist (talk about being the elephant in the room). She gave me a steroid cream, which worked to an extent. But, the itchiness was still there, and I’d wake up in the morning worse, having scratched at the eczema in my sleep.
Nikhil: The second he left, Dad went to the kitchen and started throwing things into our Vitamix. I didn’t realize just how much of what we eat has therapeutic value.
Nirav: I came back to Connecticut for winter break to a jar full of a yellowish liquid. Dad (who is a molecular biologist) had decided that there had to be a better answer to eczema than slathering steroids onto my skin a couple of times a day. He had grown up in a 1 bedroom apartment in Mumbai without access to health insurance. And our grandma, he reasoned, had kept him and his 9 siblings healthy using a knowledge of Ayurvedic medicine and the herbs and tonics she could get at the local market.
Nikhil: Her name was Jivi… but we called her ‘Ba.’
Nirav: I was his guinea pig for the next couple of years, as he experimented with natural treatments. Every month or two, there was a new version to try. Some stained my shirts yellow, some smelled awful, some burned, and some separated in the jar. But eventually it worked. The itching went away and my cracked and scaly skin turned smooth.
Nikhil: Meanwhile, I graduated from college and went to work at Cigna. I was part of a team building the business case for a new model of healthcare: rather than paying doctors to diagnose and treat symptoms as they occurred, we were figuring out how to align people (before they became patients) to a group of doctors paid to keep them healthy. The goal was to prevent people from ever developing chronic conditions.
Nirav: I spent hours on the phone hearing him talk about value over volume…how much cheaper it is for people to maintain good health, than to get treated once they are sick.
Nikhil: It’s a much better experience too…it’s pretty unpleasant to get treatment for chronic conditions most of the time, and the process is crippling our healthcare system. It is becoming prohibitively expensive to continue to treat patients after they get sick, which has been the focus of doctors and insurers for decades.
Nirav: I was also introduced to the challenges of treating chronic conditions when I moved down to North Carolina and started working in drug safety. There were patients who were being prescribed strong medications to treat serious conditions…only, those serious conditions were side effects of another drug. Sure, I was looking at clinical data for a cancer medication, so compared with the extra time it gives to the patients, the risk of severe side effects is tolerable. But the potential of drugs to compound health issues and increase hospitalization times was staring me in the face.
Nirav: I began to appreciate more and more the time Dad had spent to keep me off steroid creams and using something natural to treat my eczema. While there are certainly cases where the risk of putting chemicals in your body makes sense, daily skin care isn’t one of them.
Nikhil: We took a couple of weeks off in March to visit India with Dad. There, we spent some time walking through his childhood. We ate at the same street corners he used to grab lunch, drank fresh sugarcane juice in his old neighborhood, and were chased out of his college campus by the angry dean (apparently we were supposed to call ahead and make an appointment)! We also visited the apartment where he grew up, which had been shuttered for years. Inside we found lots of old photos, dusty medical textbooks and a couple of crates full of glass bottles with dried up Ayurvedic remedies. It was incredible to see evidence of Ba’s mortar-and-pestle solutions to everyday ailments.
Nirav: We couldn’t help but ask: why do people today take on the risk of chemicals, where there could be a natural solution?
Nikhil: The decision came easily after that. I quit my job and moved down to North Carolina. We’ve been working on an answer ever since: natural and affordable skin care, inspired by Jivi.