Hannah Levine: my wellness therapy

Written by Veronica Lavenia

Hannah’s childhood was spent exploring the natural world in the woods in Massachusetts, USA where she grew up. Her love of nature has continued throughout her life, through working in garden design and other various other botany-based jobs. Now, her appreciation for plants has been transferred to her nutrition practice, where she uses the power of plant foods and carefully chosen supplements to support her clients.

Her passion for nutrition began with her own health struggles with chronic digestive issues and food intolerances, and continued to develop while learning to support her family through nutrition. This encouraged her to train as a nutritional therapist and naturopath. She has a degree in human ecology, studying the relationship between our environment and human health, in addition to her baccalaureate degree and clinical training in naturopathic nutrition and naturopathy. She uses a functional medicine framework to support clients, utilising functional testing where necessary, and connecting all the systems of the body.

©Hannah Levine

Your studies are totally dedicated to the search for well-being in the broadest sense of the term, starting precisely from the relationship with nature and the respect that the human being should have for it. How formative your experience in garden design was to grow as a nutritionist and naturopath?

My love of plants was formative from a very young age, I used to spend hours exploring nature, in awe and learning about the plants around me.  Garden design was a natural progression from those early years of wandering in the woods.  After graduating from university I joined my father’s landscaping company in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts.  Our designs were naturalistic, using the eco-friendly, wild, sweeping prairie planting style which has become popular in gardens and urban spaces.  More often than not we were creating large ponds for clients with ornamental bee-friendly borders and big wildflower meadows.  This style of planting is as much about supporting the local ecosystem -bees, insects, aquatic life, et- as it is about creating a beautiful landscape to look at. If you have ever made a pond you know how quickly frogs will make their new home there.  Looking at the overall picture in garden design- including how it contributes to the local ecosystem and what resources it needs in order to be maintained- can be compared to how we look at nutrition and our health as humans.  We have to look at the overall picture of how our choices impact the world we live in.  As humans we have evolved alongside plants, our bodies responding to and utilising the nutritional and medicinal properties they offer.  Over the years the overlap of learning about nutritional science stole my interest and keeps me learning and fascinated today!

Once you left your job in close contact with nature, plants remained, to some extent, the key to your new career path. How can the knowledge and correct use of plants be a source of well-being for the organism?

We are incredibly lucky to have access to the vast amount of research and information we have when it comes to health and nutrition and how they can be a source of well-being .   Plants have been used as a source of wellbeing in cultures around the world. There is a lifetime of research and books out there to be explored, all fascinating and inspiring. When it comes to nutrition, we can look at each individual nutrient as much as we like, but it is difficult to argue against a whole foods plant-focused diet being the healthiest for most of the population, as well as the planet. This does not necessarily mean fully vegan or vegetarian, but that the majority of your food should be unprocessed plant foods remembering to add plenty of herbs and spices.  Of course plant foods and herbs can also very much be used for their medicinal properties as well as nutritional, and have been for centuries.  It’s said that cookbooks became popular when herbalists were accused of being witches from the late 1500s.  This was a way for herbs and spices and their medicinal properties to be passed on without threat of persecution. Herbs can be used to bring the body back to balance.  For example, sometimes we might use specific herbs to help a client with digestive complaints. We are incredibly fortunate to have the access we have to information and good food and herbs, but need to be aware that there are ongoing battles involving access to local organic food and medicinal plants and spend our money wisely.

© Hannah Levine

A healthy planet is also essential for our health. Many of us support this cause but still not enough to make a difference. Can you explain, in broad terms, what repercussions on health a polluted and unsustainable world can have?

We cannot deny that a healthy planet is essential for all life on earth and can no longer assume that the rubbish we throw in our neighbours garden will not eventually come back to us. The vast amount of human-made chemicals we have created is now affecting our health in ways  we can only begin to understand.  Most of us understand the danger of asbestos in old buildings, lead in old paint or mercury in larger fish like tuna, which we need to avoid exposure to as much as possible.  Xenoestrogens found in personal care and plastic products can alter our endocrine system and have been linked to cancer.  Micro plastics from clothing fibers, and the breakdown of larger items have been found in the farthest reaches of the world. A report in The Lancet Planetary Health titled ‘Microplastics and Human Health- an Urgent Problem”,  found that an analysis of tap water samples from around the world showed a high proportion of drinking water was contaminated (83% of the samples world-wide).  We do not fully understand the effects of human consumption of these micro plastics, but cannot deny this is a growing problem which needs addressing.  There has been some evidence that they might be linked to autoimmunity, which is a growing problem along with cancer.

© Hannah Levine

What is functional medicine and what are the advantages if applied?

Functional Medicine is a systems biology–based approach to health, focusing on identifying and addressing the root cause of disease.  While a patient might see a functional medicine doctor to treat a particular illness, a functional nutritionist focuses on the specific dietary components of supporting clients with their health concerns from a holistic perspective.  We look at each client individually and use extensive assessments, which might include functional testing, in order to support the client effectively. Each person is different and might need a specific dietary protocol or therapeutic supplements.  We have had a great success rate of supporting clients with digestive issues, anxiety, skin problems, post-viral fatigue and more.  It is incredibly rewarding to see a client who has been suffering with a particular symptom for years finally find relief.

Your idea of well-being is not only linked to nutrition but, as reiterated, to harmony with nature. What are your wellness rituals related to food and contact with nature?

Traditional cultures around the world have nurtured their own intimate relationships with their particular environments and the foods they offer.  It’s fascinating when you learn about some of the ways seasonal foods have been chosen and traditionally processed or preserved, as in the case with properly fermented foods we now know are so good for us- whether it is kimchi in Korea, sauerkraut in eastern Europe or fermented corn products from indigenous communities in South Africa- all people around the world have their own traditions and rituals of working with the foods they have locally.   Even though I am now very much city-based I still love nothing more than going out foraging for food.  Whether it’s nettle tops, elder flowers, blackberries, or sloes, taking time to go out for a walk and collect what nature has to offer is like a moving meditation which offers amazing nutritional benefits! I love to spend time in nature and the many parks and gardens of London. I also love to grow what I can in my  own small garden, so it’s full of herbs, edible flowers and some fruits and vegetables.

©Hannah Levine

As an American living in Europe, what are, in your experience, the positive aspects of the American and European lifestyle? Conversely, what are, in your opinion, the limits of the lifestyle of the Old Continent and the New?

This is a big one and could be made into a book, but I will keep it short! I have loved being part of Europe here in England and was devastated after the vote for Brexit.  There are so many wonderful elements to the European lifestyle, from the focus on the importance of healthy regional foods- which I love to use in our own diet at home,  to the outdoor culture involving lots of walking and public transportation, and the rich tapestry of cultures and history to be explored, there is much to appreciate.  Conversely, in the US most places are very much car-based and public transportation options are largely insufficient.  The food systems in the US have been dominated by big businesses, allowing food additives such as harmful dyes which the EU has banned.  Luckily farmers markets and CSAs (communities for sustainable agriculture) have been around for a long time in some areas and are growing year on year as people appreciate more and more the importance of local sustainable food.

© Hannah Levine

Three tips for living the relationship with food and nature in a sustainable and natural way.

Shop local and organic as much as possible- soil degradation from industrial farming is one of the huge problems amongst the many issues that organic and biodynamic farms are trying to address.

Try to buy less plastic including clothing products- not only do we not want hormone disrupting xenoestrogens in our bodies, but we want to stop adding to the huge amount of micro plastics already in our environment.

Make sure you are eating plenty of fresh vegetables and herbs each day. The health-giving properties of these foods cannot be underestimated, they can go a long way in supporting us to be as healthy as possible while living in our toxic world.

About the author

Veronica Lavenia

Her scientific papers have been published in some of the most renowned international literary academic journals.
Italian based writer and magazine contributor.
Author of six books, some of her works have appeared in the most popular International Food magazines.
Food Connoisseur.
EVOO Communicator. Founder of the EVOO Column at "The Wolf Post".
Writer| Translator| Communication Manager at "The Wolf Post", since the birth of the magazine.

She has always lived in the countryside. She has learned to "get her hands dirty", working and reaping the benefits of the fields, since she was a child. She participated in grape harvests, olive picking and assisted in the subsequent stages of production.
Food & Wine tourism were the family holidays that educated her on the subject.

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