Betina’s Story

My life-long love affair with the life sciences started in the 1980s, when as a teenager I read James D. Watson’s account on how the discovery of the DNA structure came about – “The Double Helix“, a wonderful little book that shows how major discoveries are the result of lots of little steps by many people – and an open mind harbouring knowledge as well as imagination.

This beautiful testimony to the power of the scientific process AND the intuitive human mind made it clear to me that I should pursue work in science – it seemed a perfect combination of using my natural abilities with the larger purpose of doing good for the world – a notion that has always been a strong driver for me.

Enthusiastically I enrolled at university in Vienna, Austria, my birth and home town at that time. I got my masters in Biotechnology, and later my PhD in Cell Biology from the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences Vienna. As the world of science soon got too small for me in Austria, I performed my masters thesis in London, UK (Cancer Research UK) and my PhD in Strasbourg, France (IGBMC).

Already during my masters, my renowned red-haired non-patience had a hard time with the slow progress of science into practice (and actual benefit), and it is only thanks to the persistent persuasion of my masters thesis supervisor in London, that I did return to the bench for 3 years of research for my doctoral thesis. During those years I got increasingly frustrated with the non-applicability of lots of lab science, and most of all, with the lack of interest in the applicability – in most cases research focused on what could be researched for frequent publications rather than what needed to be researched for the benefit of the world.

So, after graduating I decided to go into industry – as that is where they put those research results to use, don’t they? Well – not really, and after a few years of (nevertheless important) learnings, I fled from this well oiled money-making machine. The next obvious answer in my quest to be useful with my skills was Biotech – the booming Biotech field in the early 21st century – the place for innovations, entrepreneurs, people with ideas and willingness to work, people who understood business, science and health care – that must be it! And it was for a time (those years I lived and worked in Denmark). I helped start and develop a couple of useful health care products, one particularly close to my heart (suPARnostic) reached the market under my leadership and is actually helping save lives today.

However, I still felt oppressed by the financial dealings around this industry, about how investors killed good projects and promoted some that rather should have died…..while at the same time we were still lacking the space to work proactively on solutions that patients with increasing chronic and degenerative illnesses needed – and it slowly dawned on me that pharmaceutical drugs would never be the answer to those health problems. How could one single compound ever heal a multi-factorial illness that develops over decades?

My next stop was something that I had the highest hopes for, as it seemed to address my two most important concerns in bringing meaningful health solutions to the world: 1) Financial independence from investors, and 2) a development of treatment solutions that is driven by finding the best solution to an existing problem, not just finding a purpose for an existing solution. Realising this vision I found myself co-starting and running a not-for-profit foundation in Switzerland that developed such solutions, and in a manner that would mean they would primarily serve the world, not investor pockets. And again, it seemed right for some years. Until things looked promising enough so that larger financial considerations won the upper hand yet again, even in this context.

After this, I finally got it, that my path was to be elsewhere than in the industry-based development of new therapies. I had to find another piece to complement our modern medical and scientific knowledge to close the gap in our ability to help so many patients with their chronic conditions. And finally I looked the other way, I looked backwards time for old knowledge – and found herbal medicine. Further inspired by the fact that our own son was by that time severely suffering from a chronic condition that all doctors sent us home with and could not help with, I started studying the millennia-old collection of knowledge across cultures that has been the only medicine humanity could rely on for the better part of our existence, the medical knowledge we as species co-developed with, saved int the plants that grow around us. Soon I was able to support our son in getting well again with my new-found understanding of nutritional and herbal therapy.

After this, I finally got it, that my path was to be elsewhere than in the industry-based development of new therapies. I had to find another piece to complement our modern medical and scientific knowledge to close the gap in our ability to help so many patients with their chronic conditions. And finally I looked the other way, I looked backwards time for old knowledge – and found herbal medicine. Further inspired by the fact that our own son was by that time severely suffering from a chronic condition that all doctors sent us home with and could not help with, I started studying the millennia-old collection of knowledge across cultures that has been the only medicine humanity could rely on for the better part of our existence, the medical knowledge we as species co-developed with, saved int the plants that grow around us. Soon I was able to support our son in getting well again with my new-found understanding of nutritional and herbal therapy.

Others around us, who knew about this, started asking me for advice and help, and very soon my own study efforts did not seem sufficient anymore, so I applied and got accepted into a renowned two-year study program with one of the world’s great masters in clinical herbalism, David Winston. I completed the program in 2018 and continued with two years of graduate education. Since 2015 I have studied over 300 herbs, increased my knowledge about nutrition and individual constitution, about understanding and identifying the often minute physiological changes in the human body that lead to or increase imbalance, which in turn causes lots of chronic issues.

Today, as part of Rigi Care in Switzerland, I am experienced in helping clients to adapt and optimise their life-style and diet to their particular constitution and health issues, and proficient in helping select herbal and other supplements of the best quality for a particular health situation. I have also increased my basic medical skills for optimal collaboration with our clients’ physicians (I am in the process of finishing the Swiss basic medical education that also naturopathic doctors have to pass).

Furthermore, my in-depth understanding of the biology of the human body and its biochemical processes (and my love and skill to explain this at various levels of technicality) is the basis for educating our clients more on their bodies, health and their respective health challenges. I see that in all cases this increase in awareness and understanding is a major contributor to health – “the more you understand your body, the better you can care for it“.

Last but not least, as I promised my wonderful herbal teacher, being blessed with having received this old treasured knowledge comes with the obligation to teach it onwards, and with the years I wish to increase my efforts in this direction. I took one such step with joining the steering committee of Ancient Roots Israel and helping my herbalist friends organise the first international herbal conference in English in Israel in early 2019.

Spreading herbal knowledge is a beautiful activity, which brings together people from all walks of life and builds a bridge across cultures and differences. For me understanding the herbs that support us and aid our health is creating a mutual healing relationship between humans and nature, and might in the end be a key to the wellbeing of people and our Earth.

(More about my professional history on LinkedIn.)