Child: Welcome to my Mommy’s podcast.
Hello and welcome to The Wellness Mama Podcast. I’m Katie from wellnessmama.com. And you hear me say on this podcast a lot that we are each our own primary healthcare provider and that while we can work with amazing practitioners, we still hold the responsibility for our own health and that it’s our daily choices and habits that make the biggest difference over time. But the one piece of this that I feel like has been missing in the past is that there are certain things that we don’t get an easy picture of on a day-to-day basis, like our lab results and what might be going on internally at a pre-symptom level, which is why I’m so excited to be here with today’s guest, Pranitha Patil, to delve into a new way to access lab testing that is so much more affordable than anything I have found in the past, to the point that I was excited to partner with this company to help make this even more accessible and to make sure you guys got early access to it before it’s open to the general public.
I got to go through this testing recently, and it was really fascinating the things that it showed me. And I feel like this is one of the important and final pieces on truly being able to become our own primary healthcare providers because we can access now lab testing affordably without a doctor. And they have partnered with Dr. Mark Hyman, who’s a co-founder in this company, to give really detailed analytical reporting of what’s going on with your data and how you can make changes in your own life that will actually improve these results over time. So the new company is called Function Health.
And we talk in this episode about how things like 70% of medical decisions are made based on lab testing, but the difference between, for instance, reference ranges and optimal ranges, and why some of you may have had the same experience I did where only a couple of things were tested, and then I was told they were, quote, normal. And I would argue that normal is not optimal, especially in today’s world. But often, important things are not tested that, especially when weighed against other lab values, give us a much more comprehensive picture. And that is one of the things that Function is trying to solve and a gap that they’re trying to bridge. And I will let Pranitha explain it in more detail. She’s the COO and co-founder, and this company comes from a place of deep passion for her in making this accessible. Because like me, she had trouble accessing this information and went on quite the long health journey as well. And so, in this episode, we talk about what they’re seeing in the data, all of the things included in this testing, and how to get it really, really affordably, and so much more. So let’s join her now. Welcome back. Thanks for being here again.
Pranitha: Thank you so much for having me.
Katie: So in our first episode, which I will link in the show notes, we got to go deep on what labs to look at and all of the range that you guys offer through Function Health. And I feel like you really revolutionized this and made it accessible to every consumer and not just people who can work with high-end concierge doctors. And what I love about this is I say all the time on here that at the end of the day, we are each our own primary healthcare provider. And that while it’s very helpful to work with doctors and practitioners when we have specific things, that we’re the ones making the daily choices that lead to better health or not. And we still have the responsibility, even if we’re working with a doctor, for our own health.
But I feel like the sticky point of this in the past has been there were certain things we could only access through doctors for a long time, including things like lab tests to know what’s going on in our bodies and with our health. I know from personal experience I had frustration with knowing something wasn’t right and having to sort of pester my doctor to get the testing that I wanted to actually see what was going on in my body. And he was sort of the gatekeeper to that information. And what you guys are doing, I feel like, is turning the tables on that and giving consumers access to their health data and understanding of what’s going on with it so that if they work with a doctor, they’re coming from a more informed place and they don’t have to go through that long process to get labs, which for me, like I said, was a huge frustration for a really long time. And in prep for this interview, I love to ask guests, if you were going to do a TED Talk in a week, what would it be on? And your answer I loved was about the importance of being actually being and feeling in control of your own health. And I know that’s your passion and the work that you’re doing with Function. So, in this one, I would love to talk a little bit about the practicality and the mindset side of sort of stepping into being our own primary healthcare providers and what drove you to found this and make this available and what we can gain from this information.
Pranitha: Absolutely. So, Function Health is a product of life experiences. We’re building this revolutionary way for women, men, families, and everyone to take power over their own health outside the traditional doctor’s office. As you likely know, 70% of medical decisions are made on lab testing. And we work with physicians at Function to make that easier for individuals to get access to that lab testing in an affordable, convenient way. This means that when, like you said, when you do go to the doctor’s office, you have information, you feel empowered, you know the questions to ask in that 15-minute visit, and you are feeling informed before walking in.
But the kicker here is health doesn’t happen at the doctor’s office. It happens at home. It happens at work. It happens with friends and family. So, how do we make individuals empowered? How do we empower individuals with information so that when they are making these tough decisions, they come more easier, and they come with data? And that’s the purpose of Function is giving people access to that testing so they have information to be unlocked to make those decisions effectively and informed.
So, when it comes to me, I built this with my co-founders as a woman who had lifelong challenges of getting the care that I needed. I was pre-diabetic. I had high cholesterol. I had PCOS. Just the list went on in my 20s. And honestly, I spent a lot of time in and out of the doctor’s office, getting prescribed different medications, birth control, metformin, the list just went on. And I realized that none of the things that I was doing was actually helping my body. It was just masking everything. And this is such a common thing. I’ve heard it now so many times. So, for the past 10 years, I ran experiments on myself and basically reversed my prediabetes, don’t have high cholesterol, reversed those things. And not everybody has the means or the willpower to do that. So what we’re trying to do at Function is unlock that and make that easy for you so folks can actually spend time doing the things that they want to do, which is living to see their grandkids, hanging out with family, going to climb that mountain. And that’s what Function’s doing is building a way for people to bring that data into their home and make decisions every day that keep them away from having symptom-driven healthcare.
Katie: I love that because in all of the years of being in the health and wellness world, also like you, looking for my own answers and then that developing into a passion to really build a community of people who are on the same path, I’ve noticed over and over that really the lesson is we are all so individual that really the future is that personalized aspect. And I think the beauty here is before I found my own answers, I had tried sort of every system and every expert’s protocol and every supplement regime and all these things. And I do think there’s wisdom in all of those. But I also learned from that at the end of the day, we each have to become our own health researcher. And the lesson we can learn from those people is that to do the experimentation and do the research and look at the data for ourselves and figure out our own answers because what works for another expert is not going to work exactly the same for me. And this is why I don’t even like to share specifics on what exact supplements I’m taking or what exact protocol I’m doing because it’s not going to work the same for someone else. And in the past, this is the hard part is like, because I can’t just share the blueprint that worked for me and it’s going to work for you in the same way, getting the access to the information that lets us begin that process of figuring out our own answers. And so I love that you guys are sort of like democratizing that and putting it in our hands because we live in such an exciting time where we all can have these wearables that tell us what’s going on with our sleep or I have an app that helps me track my cycle and tell me what’s going on with that. But the lab piece has always been a little bit harder to access. And so now this is something that we have in our hands as consumers and with information behind it to actually make the changes that are going to help. I feel like that’s like finally connecting the circle of all of the things that we’ve had access to with this piece we haven’t in the past. So it’s super exciting to me. And I also would love to talk about the interpretation side because I know in the past, this is also the thing that we had to rely on doctors for was to tell us, is this range normal, which we talked about in our first episode, and what to do about it. And you guys build the education into it. And from what I understand, this is sort of even an adaptive and constantly evolving education as you guys get more data points, and as you see trends over time, that education compounds and gets more comprehensive.
Pranitha: Yes, exactly. The information is key that the point you made about it being so personal is critical here. So, from the start, we get information from individuals. So this is self-reported information about their health, their history, chronic conditions they might have, and that’s fed into the system before a Function member even gets testing. And once the testing is complete, we have two things. We have our system, and then we also have physicians on the other side. So, there’s two layers here. The physicians are providing summaries for folks based on, okay, you have had Hashimoto’s, you have PCOS, how does that impact some of the biomarkers? What are we expecting to see? And then again, for each biomarker, and then each category, there’s content on what the biomarker is, why it matters, foods you might eat, foods you might limit, supplements you might consider. And this is all building the habit of let’s try this and test again and see how we’re changing.
And the beautiful thing that you had mentioned about incorporating sleep trackers and wearables and cycle trackers is all of that information also will feed into this so that we’re eventually having a platform that has all this information for people that understands the layers of the complexity of not just your internal organs and your organ systems, but how it feeds into other parts of daily interactions and daily things that you do like walking and sleeping and your cycle. So that’s a really incredible part of what we’re building is looping this all in so that we can make a system that is truly personalized to you. Because, again, the supplements you and I take probably shouldn’t match, right? Like they probably don’t need to match, and they shouldn’t. And it’s in this information-rich world, it’s so easy to say, let me just take what this person does because I think I want to be just like them. Where it’s like, actually, no, the beautiful thing is you just get to be yourself. Let’s figure out what works for you. Just N of one. And that’s the ultimate goal with Function.
Katie: I love that. And the other thing I’ve noticed over time is that I think often the most profoundly helpful things are the small habits over time, but they often get overlooked because of their simplicity. And I feel like you guys do a great job of connecting what people can see in their lab results to those daily lifestyle habits and small changes that we can make. And the beauty of that from what I’ve seen is even if you do end up needing to work with a doctor or do something more complex or take a medication or whatever it may be, if you do those foundational things, all of those things also work better. And so, I love that it’s sort of bringing that awareness back to, like, the end of the day, we are human animals. There’s kind of habits that do sort of benefit us in small ways over time, and they compound. And they’re going to help anything else you do, whether it’s the fancy supplements or the fancy biohacks work better anyway. But based on the data that you guys are getting on your end, are there any trends that you would say are sort of like universally helpful that people can start experimenting with or universally try to avoid these things? We see them not be great in the data.
Pranitha: Yeah. I mean, these might come off as pretty obvious, but like the walking 10,000 steps a day, right? Like the active, like you can go work out, but just make sure that you’re walking in between meetings, take it, have a walking treadmill, whatever that is, that one seems pretty obvious, but like the active lifestyle is pretty critical here. And then, it’s the refined foods that are so important to consider and think about when, when eating and making lifestyle choices. And sometimes that can be really challenging with whatever background you come from. So, it’s purely about education and understanding that behavior change is not overnight. And it’s like the power of habit, right? It’s like, do something for a while and see how you feel. And the amazing thing is that people actually are, from a testimonial perspective, are saying like, this helped me do this, and I’m actually feeling more energized or more X. And that’s pretty incredible. So those are the big ones. They seem obvious, but it’s helpful to have the data to say that the 10,000 steps might actually be helping, right? It’s not just immediate correlation, but you’re getting there with testing and experimenting and then getting information back. That feedback loop is pretty critical for behavior change to be effective in this space.
Katie: Yeah, and it’s like those things that we wish were just a magic pill or supplement we could take. But it seems like I would guess the data indicates like these sort of simple, not super sexy, basic lifestyle habits seem to make a huge difference. Like I would add to the list, never in over 700 podcast episodes have I had an expert say sleep is not important and that not duration but quality. And so that’s a thing we can all pay attention to and do our own experimentation with. And like you mentioned, movement, not super exciting and sexy, super important. And like that zone two range, the data continually shows is important for all of us. Same thing with lifting things once in a while or having muscle as we age seems critical, actually. Do you see that in the labs as well? Like maintaining lean muscle? I know that reduces all-cause mortality, but is the lab data indicative of that as well?
Pranitha: Yeah. So that’s an important one, the strength training piece. And this is something that Dr. Mark and I have talked about is making sure that you do that starting at a young age. And if you’re not young anymore, it’s okay. Just continue to do that so that, particularly as you age, your muscles are strong and able to carry your body. That’s a really critical. One more that I would add that seems so simple is your community. Your happiness stems on having people around you, and we test for cortisol. Your stress levels come down if you’re laughing and hugging people, right? That seems so simple, but people around you and the folks you surround yourself with impact your life so much. Family, friends, all of that. It’s super important. That’s a little softer, but it’s an important piece of this puzzle, like the human experience. So, yeah.
Katie: I’m so glad you brought that up because that’s been one of my personal theories for a long time. You know, people love to quote blue zone data, or I see people like cherry-pick blue zones data to support whatever protocol they’re recommending. But I’m like, when you really delve into it, the one thing they really strongly have in common is a strong sense of community and that, like, a driving community purpose around their life. And, of course, the factors like they walk more than we do and they sleep better than whatever, but that community piece really stands out, especially after so many of us getting to see the contrast in that not being as robust over the last few years. So, I love that you brought that up as a point as well. Were there any things that were sort of surprising trends that you guys are seeing in lab results or like worrisome? Like I know we hear the statistics of essentially every health problem being on the rise, but do any stand out to you based on the data you’re getting?
Pranitha: Yeah, we have two that stand out. One is the cardiometabolic testing. We have a significant portion of our members who have out-of-range markers there. And that’s not too surprising with the data that we have as a population. But that one really stuck out because it’s important to get this right from a what do we do about cardiovascular risk and how can we start to take those numbers down. And the second one is actually the autoimmune testing that we do. We’re providing a test that allows folks to understand if something is off from an autoimmune perspective. It’s called ANA. And that one was also higher than we expected. So those are two that we’re tracking. There’s many more that are coming out. As a startup, our membership is growing, which is great. So we’re really understanding what our population looks like and what they might need, particularly when they do have things out of range. So those are two that are top of mind for us.
Katie: I would love to go deeper on the autoimmune piece because, as someone who had that in the past, this is one that I feel is important and often one that maybe people don’t know is going on until it gets to a pretty severe symptom experience happening. And so you guys are testing this even at a level where someone might not be having symptoms or might not have defined symptoms in relation to something in particular. And I think this is valuable as well to kind of get an early warning sign of like, is something off in the body? What, in particular, explain the testing you guys are doing and what it can tell you about what’s going on internally.
Pranitha: Yeah. So the ANA test tests for like a high level, hey, something is off and could be an autoimmune thing, right? That’s just like the basic way of thinking about it. What’s required after that is a series of tests to understand what it could be. Could it be celiac? Could it be rheumatoid arthritis? Could it be a bunch of other autoimmune conditions? That is, that first test just says, hey, something could be off. Let’s like look into it. And so what Function is trying to do is say, what are the other tests we could offer people when they do have something off for their ANA? So that’s how we’re thinking about it. And oftentimes, you don’t have the immediate answer, and sometimes that could be a little anxiety-inducing. So what I like to tell people when they get their Function tests is maybe you walk away with this with more questions than answers and that’s okay. That’s something that we want to help you get answers to. And so that’s one of the tests that we’re looking to say, okay, what can we offer for folks after they do get something flagged here?
Katie: And then I know in the first episode, we got to go deep on, like, a lot of the specifics of what you guys are testing and the insight that it gives. I would love to talk about like all the pieces you guys are building in for like long-term habit and behavior change in people and the education side of that. Because I think the more we get this data and can connect it to our daily experience, our daily habits, and our ability to affect change, that’s where the really profound long-term effects are going to happen. And I know that you guys are doing this in a way that I have not seen with that education piece on the backend, and then it’s going to continually adapt and get better over time. But maybe delve into that a little bit more because I think that’s the really valuable piece of this besides, of course, getting access to data we didn’t even have before.
Pranitha: Yeah. So, obviously, baseline is super important. And then it’s how do we nudge people and encourage them to take action by giving them things like a workout plan, a meal plan, a grocery list, you know, things that make it really easy to screenshot and take out for busy moms. Like, think about just how do we make it so easy they just download and go to the store and have a meal plan for the week based on their diet preferences, based on their allergy sensitivities, based on their family’s allergy sensitivities, whatever that might be. That’s something that we’re looking to do by providing nudges to people and making it really easy for them to make those decisions. Maybe it’s as simple as thinking about what supplements you want to purchase, making that really easy for folks. And this being a recurring loop, that’s the biggest part of this is, it’s not just a one-and-done because even if you come back really healthy, that’s amazing. Like, honestly, kudos to you. And how do you make it such that you’re testing this over time so that you’re identifying something before it becomes a thing. And that’s the kicker here is really getting people to say, okay, I made these habit changes; I might already be healthy but let me test this again to see did I get better. Did I get more in-range? Did I move from slightly out of range to in range finally? Those kind of things are helpful for, are incredibly helpful for being proactive about your health, and the way that we’re doing that is not just providing these nudges, but saying, hey, it’s time to get this testing again. And let’s see if you actually did what we told you to do in like a friendly way to say, like, let’s make this a continuous loop.
Katie: And I know you guys are so early stage, but are you seeing that play out where people are actually like coming back and seeing improvement? Because I can totally understand that would be incredibly motivating to see empirical data of like, oh, this has actually improved as a result of these changes in lifestyle choices that I made.
Pranitha: Yes, absolutely. And you’re right. We are early days, but we’re seeing folks who are making changes, whether that’s their diet or their supplements or whatever it is that they’re taking into their own hands. And they’re coming back and saying, I want to see if my out-of-range markers got back in range. Like, obviously, that’s the biggest ask. And so that mid-year test that I was mentioning, that follow-up test, is a really great time to do that. That’s already included in the membership. And so, it’s kind of a nudge of, hey, your test is coming up. You have motivation to do something about it before that test. Like if you can think about motivation and like how psychology works, it’s such a great way to build habits and say, okay, I have three months until then. Let’s see what I can do. That’s an achievable amount of time. It doesn’t seem super overwhelming. Let’s see what I can do and use that as like a motivational tactic to start to build some of these habits.
Katie: And the cool thing there is like, that is an amazing amount of time for a habit to stick, but not an overwhelming amount of time to embark on a new experiment. I feel like a lot of times we see this with the new year’s goals is, like, they become great things to focus on for two weeks. But then because you’ve set this up as a dichotomy of like, from now on, I’m going to make this absolute change, we actually demotivate ourselves and tend to not stick to it. Whereas, it seems like having these benchmarks make these achievable experiments more attainable, and then probably increase the likelihood of us actually sticking with those changes.
Katie: I love that. What are the plans for the future of other things? I know you mentioned that you guys want to add on some other additional testing and insight. What are the plans, if you’re able to share them, of what’s going to be added in the future?
Pranitha: Yeah. So we’re thinking about different types of testing. When you think about your gut, when you think about your advanced testing that may have not hit the market when it comes to your thyroid, your heart, we’re kind of looking at the whole space as a way to say, how can we get accessibility to folks and make it so that it’s easy to access. And then you can also get information behind it. That’s our thesis, right? If we get the information, that’s what people need to make a change. So that’s one element. And then there’s another element that I had mentioned briefly about connecting different sources of data so that we get a more complete picture of you as you’re making change. So you think about wearables, you think about your past medical records, you think about more consistent self-reported data. So let’s say you do make a diet change, and you want to log that and see how that changes when you go get your testing again. That kind of stuff is super important to have one home for. And so those are the kind of things we’re thinking about, again, from a motivational perspective to get people to say, yes, I’m running this informed experiment. And oh, I actually did make that change that one day in September. And that’s why this impacted. That’s potentially why this impacted my blood work in December, right? So those kinds of things are going to help us just understand individuals better and understand your individual health better over time.
Katie: I’d also love to talk about the accessibility side of this a little bit because that was certainly the roadblock I ran into for a long time living in a smaller area. There wasn’t access to some of these tests to begin with without driving somewhere. And also, things like concierge medicine, like the only time I’ve gotten some of those things tested in the past was with concierge doctors that were really expensive, that are not accessible to everyone. And what I love, I know this is a really big passion for you, is making this available to everyone so that it’s not something only available to people who can afford a concierge doctor, but that we can all access it both geographically through the lab testing itself and from an affordability standpoint. So can you speak to that a little bit, maybe share some specifics about who is able to access this right now and what the plans are for the future?
Pranitha: Absolutely. This is a big one for all the co-founders. We really wanted to make something that wasn’t the $5,000 can’t afford membership, right? This is 500 bucks. And I’m not saying that’s not a lot of money, but if you go and get these tests with health insurance, you can spend up to $10,000 on these tests because I’ve tried to do it myself. And that is what we’re trying to say. No, like this, this is, this is possible. You can do it for $500, and then you can also make the change. This is available in 47 states, and we are partnering with a national lab provider. So you go into a lab for the testing, and they have 2,000 locations across the country. So, we do have that from an accessibility standpoint. And then we have an incredible team on the backend supporting for any, you know, any problems or issues that they have with the lab or finding a lab and making just really easy for you to get this information and ask questions from a, from a health team perspective. Like we’re basically your team trying to support you to get this information. And that’s an incredible job that our company has done.
Katie: Well, and like I said, I’m excited for this because it gives us that data without having to go through a doctor, even just to get the testing. But then, like you said, you give guys the access on the other end to getting their questions answered about what do I do now, now that I have this data, there’s the education piece. There’s the, if you need more help beyond that, here’s how to find it piece. And I feel like this is going to really change, especially for families, which is who I’m been focused on and talking to for the past 15 years. I feel like that’s really going to change things for families. And I certainly, I wish it had existed when I was beginning my health journey, because it certainly did not. And I spent many thousands of dollars on some of these tests over the years that are now you guys are making available so much more affordably. And I’m so, so grateful for that. Can you speak to how people can get started with this? Because I know if they just go online and Google, there’s a waitlist and it’s hard to get in. But I believe you have something special set up for people who are listening today.
Pranitha: Yes. So when you go to functionhealth.com, you can hit Join Function, and it asks for an early access code. And so, for all your listeners, we have provided The Wellness Mama access code. And what that allows you to do is jump the waitlist and get access to the testing immediately. And you go ahead, finish the questionnaire, and you sign up for your testing as soon as you sign up.
Katie: Awesome. And I know you guys are also doing a lot to educate about why these lab tests and so much. I’ll make sure a lot of those links are included in the show notes. I’m really excited to see what the future holds with this. And we’ll have to do more continued conversations as you guys integrate even more data points and the wearable technology, and we get to learn even more and more about what’s going on inside our own bodies. But for now, thank you so much for the work that you are putting into this. I know, like I said, from my personal journey in this, this is no small feat. And I love that this is now accessible to families. So thank you for the work you’re doing, and thank you for being here.
Pranitha: Thank you so much. I really appreciate it. And thanks for having me on. This was, this was a very wonderful conversation.
Katie: And thanks as always to you for listening and sharing your most valuable resources, your time, your energy, and your attention with us today. We’re both so grateful that you did. And I hope that you will join me again on the next episode of The Wellness Mama Podcast.
If you’re enjoying these interviews, would you please take two minutes to leave a rating or review on iTunes for me? Doing this helps more people to find the podcast, which means even more moms and families could benefit from the information. I really appreciate your time, and thanks as always for listening.