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A Conversation with the Founder of Oxford Healthspan


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By Niamh Walsh on 15th September 2023

In the pursuit of health and longevity, join us as we uncover the remarkable story of Oxford Healthspan's founder and her groundbreaking anti-aging solution, Primeadine®, in this exclusive interview.

In a world where the pursuit of longevity and well-being reigns supreme, we had the privilege of sitting down with the visionary behind Oxford Healthspan, a trailblazing company at the forefront of natural health solutions. This exclusive interview provides an intimate glimpse into the personal journey that led to the creation of Oxford Healthspan, along with insights into their groundbreaking product, Primeadine®. From battling lupus and rheumatoid arthritis to championing regenerative medicine, Leslie Kenny's story is as inspiring as it is transformative. Join us as we explore the remarkable fusion of science and self-care, and the future of ageing gracefully.

1. Can you tell us about your personal journey that led you to establish Oxford Healthspan? How did your diagnosis of lupus and rheumatoid arthritis influence your path?

A lot of people assume that healthcare must have been my industry focus my entire career, but the impetus for Oxford Healthspan really came only a decade after my life-changing lupus, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Hashimoto’s and infertility diagnoses. I had enjoyed a great career up until then, working for a Swiss bank, Disney and leading my own venture backed, online matchmaking start-up, but all of that, as exciting as it seems, was what led to my health collapsing after extreme burnout. I learned the hard way that health really is wealth. 

So I couldn’t immediately start a business - I had to recover my health first. Each time I reversed a disease diagnosis (lupus, RA and infertility) or found a treatment for them (Hashi’s), I would ask myself, ‘Why didn’t anyone tell me about this? Why don’t my doctors know about these protocols?’ 

After I healed myself and regained my energy, I would meet other patients who hadn’t been so lucky and had lived with these diagnoses for decades without resolution. In the case of other women, this often meant that they had gone on methotrexate, a chemo drugs to keep their autoimmune conditions in check - but which can lead to miscarriage and serious birth defects. This made me so angry on their behalf - I could have so easily been them. It felt unfair and unjust that they didn’t know about the treatments I had been able to use to recover my health and have a baby. This frustration and anger led to my championing unknown regenerative medicine spinouts at the University of Oxford, which is how I was then introduced to the research team behind an awkwardly named but potent anti-aging molecule, spermidine.

2. Your decision to pursue natural solutions for optimising health after your diagnoses is inspiring. What were the most significant changes you made during this journey, and how did they impact your health and well-being?

Because my doctor told me there was no medical protocol for treatment or even management of my lupus, I was given permission to explore any and all alternatives. I was told I had 5 years left, so anything that gave me a comparable gain, however minimal, was worth pursuing. I researched everything about lupus and RA and saw that both had inflammation as their root cause and I used Dr Barry Sears’ Zone Anti-Inflammatory Diet to target this. It’s interesting to see the news reports on the links between processed food, inflammation and disease now, because one of the first things I did was really emphasize making my own food, even  my own almond milk. I got rid of anything that might trigger my immune system, which meant no dairy or lectins. Many people don’t realize that lectins are in high quantities in nightshade vegetables like aubergine, tomatoes, potatoes, and peppers, but most are familiar with the most famous lectin of them all, gluten, which I eliminated. I also increased intake of anti-inflammatories, such as Omega 3 fatty acids, extra virgin olive oil and turmeric. 

 I also discovered a relatively unknown medical treatment, Intravenous Immunoglobulin or IVIg, which showed great promise with other lupus and RA patients in small scale human trials. I consulted around 6 immunologists and medics in the US, UK and Hong Kong. Everyone said it was too experimental but to me the human trials were compelling, showing patients’ immune systems returning to balance. It was a possible lifeline and I had no better alternatives to the declining function and pain in my joints. I had two IV’s which cost $12,000 each. 

After taking away the triggers to my over-reactive immune system and using IVIg to reset it, I retested for both lupus and RA. My results came back negative. I was elated but also floored. Did my  doctor want to know what I had done? No. They didn’t have time to investigate; their next patient was already there. So I walked out realising that the medical system doesn’t always have the answers and it’s up to us patients to take responsibility and advocate for our health ourselves, while also sharing our knowledge with others.

3. Your involvement in supporting life sciences academics at European universities, including Oxford, is intriguing. Could you share more about how this collaboration began and its impact on your mission?

My initial involvement with regenerative medicine spinouts began on the school playground. I would fall into conversation with other parents, asking them about their work and then discovered that some of them were working on really ground-breaking science. I distinctly recall asking one, who was doing research about 10 years ago on transcranial electro stimulation (of the brain) to reduce depression, ‘Where can a patient get this treatment?’ He answered, ‘Oh no. This is just for research.’ When I asked him whether he had started a company or wanted to, he said, ‘No, I’m just a research scientist. I don’t do business.’’ More conversations like this made me realize that unless someone championed their causes, these therapies wouldn’t ever hit the mainstream and change people’s lives, so I began raising my hand to fund raise for them. This allowed me to work with a ketone startup out of the University of Basel and circadian rhythm and stem cell therapies out of Cambridge and Oxford. 

4. Spermidine's potential as an anti-aging compound is compelling. Could you elaborate on the scientific research that supports its benefits for health as we age?

The research on spermidine and healthy aging done here at the University of Oxford by Immunology Professor Katja Simon and Dr Ghada Alsaleh at the Kennedy Institute of Rheumatology show that it supports the elderly immune system in mouse models and in elderly human cells in vitro where immune cells were ‘rejuvenated’ (the scientific journal’s words, not mine!). A human trial has now been completed and results are being written up - we are all eagerly awaiting publication. The implications of the immune system being ‘rejuvenated’ are huge. As an autoimmune patient whose own immune system had aged so much that it could no longer properly recognise my own tissue from that of an invader and was destroying it in ‘friendly fire’ attacks, this is game changing. But if you think about how older individuals are much more susceptible to pneumonia and cancer - both a case of the immune system being unable to properly identify and destroy pathogens or cells that have gone rogue - being able to maintain a healthy immune system goes a long way towards longer healthspan. 

But spermidine doesn’t just work on the immune system, it works holistically throughout the body and even inhibits 9 out of 12 of the so-called Hallmarks of Ageing - these are the pathways down which we age and include stem cell and mitochondrial dysfunction, shortened telomeres, inflammation (only recently recognised 18 years after my own diagnoses!), and impaired autophagy or cell renewal and recycling. 

Most people know about autophagy because fasting activates it. Unfortunately, not everyone can fast without side effects. For instance, if you are hypothyroid, which I am, fasting will only cause your body to think you are going through famine and will down-regulate your metabolism. Women of reproductive age who fast too aggressively will lose their menstrual cycles. Older adults who are already low body weight or who have very little muscle mass will find that fasting causes them to lose muscle as the body breaks down muscle first, but low muscle mass leads to frailty, falls and bone breaks, which can lead to lower healthspan. Because spermidine is a fasting mimetic, older individuals can use it to activate autophagy without experiencing the pitfalls of fasting. 

Finally, a number of studies from around the world including those conducted on healthy centenarians have shown that higher spermidine intake appears to be positively correlated with greater healthspan. 

5. Overcoming challenges is often a crucial part of entrepreneurship. What were some of the major obstacles you faced when trying to bring spermidine to the US market, and how did you address them?

One of the biggest challenges is educating the public on the power of highly concentrated plant molecules such as the plant-derived spermidine that Oxford Healthspan sells. Since David Sinclair at Harvard Med School tweeted that it was a molecule we would be hearing more about, its popularity has risen greatly, but this has also meant the entrance of companies selling the cheap, synthetic version of spermidine which has never been tested for safety or efficacy in humans. In addition, these groups are selling extremely high doses, far greater than the European Food Safety Authority has even allowed for food-derived spermidine like ours where the limit is 6mg per day. 

So it means that I have to invest time appearing on podcasts to educate others on the difference between the synthetic which literally costs pennies but is sold for anywhere between $20-70 and food-derived like ours. While I don’t want clients experimenting with what we don’t know about - after all we went through this with thalidomide in the 50’s and 60’s and we know how that ended up especially for women and their babies - I have heard back from clients who say they don’t get the same results on synthetics as they get on ours. I also had a call from a client in the Emergency Room in NYC recently who had taken a supplement with 10mg of synthetic spermidine among other ingredients and had a bad reaction. The company she bought the supplement from didn’t even have their registered address on their website. They also didn’t have a phone number to call in case of an emergency. So it’s a painstaking process educating the consumer about both synthetic spermidine and frankly cowboy supplement manufacturers.  Look how long it’s taken to get the message across about the differences between the synthetic progesterone (aka ‘progestin’)  used in the old Hormone Replacement Therapy and the yam-derived progesterone used in the new bioidentical HRT. Women know there is a difference and can feel it. So it’s important to be patient and persistent. 

6. Primeadine® is a result of your dedication to bringing spermidine to the US. Could you share some success stories from individuals who have incorporated Primeadine® into their wellness routines?

Improved sleep is one of the most common benefits we hear from our clients. In one case, the CEO of a large company employing tens of thousands was unable to sleep. His wife put him on Primeadine and she said the result was immediate - and it improved her sleep too because he wasn’t tossing and turning and getting up so much. 

But others report the ‘beauty benefits’ as being profound and meaningful to them. Hair and nail quality and hair color are the most commonly cited here. In one case, a 79-year-old woman reported that her hair color was returning to the roots of her hair. But rather than being excited, she was unhappy ‘My friends will think I’m vain and am coloring my hair!’ Most clients are thrilled with color restoration - it’s not always 100%, but even 60% restoration means less visits to the colorist. Clients also report that the texture of their hair returns to its earlier state, so if their hair was straight and fine, but has become frizzy post menopause, it returns to a softer, finer and glossier state. These women say they no longer have to do expensive keratin treatments or extensions, both of which are actually counterproductive in the long term. 

Eyelashes are another benefit frequently cited. It seems a small thing but when you think about the current rage for false eyelashes, you realize the confidence boost women get from seeing their lashes return and lengthen. 

Better skin and fewer wrinkles are another reported benefit and like hair and nails, this is down to faster cellular turnover. The same thing will be happening inside the body in the mucosa like the mouth and in the lining of the gut, where spermidine helps seal up the tight junctions to keep ‘Leaky Gut’ or gut dysbiosis (another hallmark of aging and one that directly contributes to autoimmune attacks) at bay. 

Spermidine’s involvement throughout the body underscores its importance. This is also evident in the fact that it is so essential to all human, animal and plant life that it naturally occurs in high quantities in seminal fluid, breastmilk and in the endosperm of all seeds to ensure the survival of the next generation. 

7. Your personal experience as a living testament to the benefits of Primeadine® is remarkable. What changes have you noticed in your health and well-being since incorporating spermidine into your own regimen?

Well, the funniest benefit is that, although I’m 58,  I don’t have to dye my hair. I have also just done a biological age test with the London-based company, Glycanage, who say that I am biologically 21. My markers of inflammation, which I test bi-annually have also come in at their lowest ever with an hsC-RP of 0.3 which is the same as that of my 14-year-old daughter.

8. Empowering individuals to take responsibility for their health is a core message of your story. Could you provide some practical advice for our readers on how they can start optimising their health and well-being, especially as they age?

This will sound trite, but the biggest bang for your buck will hands down be improving your sleep. As a health coach I have met so many people who say they ‘are doing all the things’ but still have high inflammation levels. When you ask about sleep, it’s obvious they think this is negotiable when it’s not. Why? Because our bodies undergo some level of autophagy during sleep and it’s also the only time when the glymphatic system in our brain - a kind of waste removal system - is activated, specifically during Deep Sleep. My biggest tip would be to make sure you get into bed by 10 or 11pm so you don’t miss your Deep Sleep window which is between 10pm and 2am. 

After this, it’s monitoring - regularly check your levels of inflammation, hormones, minerals and vitamins, and then top up where necessary. Iron is the mineral that over 1 billion people on the planet are deficient in and 70% of Americans are deficient in magnesium which supports sleep and another 300 enzymatic reactions in the body. Post-Covid we all know that low vitamin D levels are dangerous but did you know that low vitamin D isn’t just a risk to your immune system but also has an impact on your hair color? And while we may know that low hormone levels can impact mood, we might not be thinking to check our thyroid hormones, another molecule that has a big impact on mood, resilience, energy, and hair fullness and color. 

9. Looking ahead, what are your aspirations for Oxford Healthspan and the broader field of natural health solutions? How do you envision the impact of Primeadine® on people's lives in the years to come?

Ageing is the number one risk factor for ALL of the so-called diseases of aging: Alzheimer’s and dementia, cancer, cardiovascular disease, among others. By bringing safe, effective plant-derived molecules to market that slow the aging process and allow the body to do what it innately knows how to do best - stay in homeostasis or balance - we have the opportunity to swerve the diseases of aging.  My mission is to continue to work together with world class scientists such as those at Oxford, Osaka University and elsewhere to validate Mother Nature’s exquisite chemistry in bringing the body into balance to slow the aging process.

10. As a successful entrepreneur and advocate for health, what key lessons have you learned on your journey that you believe could inspire others, both in the business world and in matters of health and self-care?

Conviction is everything. You need to believe so strongly in your mission that it actually is more frustrating doing nothing than beginning your business. In my case, I was so frustrated by meeting other patients who had been disempowered and told there was nothing they could do about their diagnoses that they became their diagnoses. I could no longer sit around watching nothing being done for these people and had to jump in to do my bit. This keeps me going even on the days when there are set-backs - and there will always be set-backs since running a start-up is a roller coaster. Having conviction keeps you on the ride until you hit success.

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