Resident Expert: Brittany Kearney

Brittany Kearney is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) with a Bachelor of Science in Genetics from UC Davis. Her work focuses on helping clients to unlock better health and optimized longevity–much like Tony Robbins’ diagnostic and preventative health company Fountain Life, but without the $20,000 price tag. Here, Brittany–CANOPY’s resident Robin Hood of healthcare–shares her non-linear career path and tips for optimizing wellness.

What is the role of a dietitian nutritionist in preventative or therapeutic healthcare, and why did you choose this discipline?

The direct path to becoming a dietitian nutritionist is to complete an undergraduate dietitian program followed by a master’s in nutrition. In my case, I was pre-med and studying genetics when I took a seminar in nutritional genomics, a field that explores how what you eat affects the expression of your genes–a precursor to epigenetics. That course completely changed the trajectory of what I wanted to do with my life. My work focuses on longevity, encompassing everything we need to do to prevent disruptive methylation in the genome, a process that is directly linked to aging. By addressing methylation patterns, reducing inflammation, we can extend a person’s health span, not just their lifespan.

Tell us about some of the most exciting developments in your specialty

The Buck Institute for Research in Aging in Novato is doing a ton of research around longevity. Dr. Valter Longo, Professor of Gerontology and Biological Sciences and Director of the Longevity Institute at the University of Southern California, has done fascinating work in fasting mimicking programs to extend lifespan. David Sinclair’s lab is working on the aging of the eye by exploring Yamanaka factors, named for the Nobel-Prize-winning scientist who discovered that mature cells could be converted to stem cells, literally reversing the aging process. Dr. Sinclair used an antibiotic to turn on this gene to reverse macular degeneration in mice and has now moved into human studies. The applications of this science are limitless: you can grow your own organs by taking skin cells and reverting them to pluripotent stem cells.

What does a typical day look like for you?

I primarily offer virtual consultations, although I have my own office in Folsom for people who prefer an in-person visit. Working virtually is excellent because people can book a consultation with me on their lunch break. I work on many bariatric surgery cases, but my passion is longevity and optimizing the body’s function. One issue with our healthcare system is that it focuses on treating symptoms instead of being preventative and trying to get to the root cause. I start with a foundation of critical elements to health, getting patients/clients on a sleeping and eating schedule, how to build a balanced meal, and what nutrients to look for to get the optimal fullness cues in the body while avoiding deficiencies. I’ll develop exercise programs that optimize heart rate zones and strength training, which is especially important for women in their forties and fifties going through menopause to avoid osteoporosis. I do a lot of preventative testing, looking at micronutrients, hormones, and ways to test for early signs of cancer.

When working remotely, how do you tackle performing tests requiring blood and other samples?

Because I can’t prescribe medications and order tests through insurance, I typically ask my clients to ask their doctor to order the tests we want to run so they can be covered by insurance whenever possible. That said, most of the tests I want to run are not offered by go-to labs like Quest, or insurance won’t cover it because there’s no pre-existing condition on that individual’s record. I use out-of-network lab directories like Rupa Health, which sends kits directly to the patients; if you need a blood draw, you can request your primary care provider perform it or ask a mobile phlebotomist to come to your house or workplace. The lab sends the results to me, and I can use the data to create a custom program for my patients.

What are the biggest hurdles to you providing solutions for patients/clients?

Insurance is probably the greatest obstacle to people benefiting from the wealth of scientific insights available–many healthcare policies don’t have provisions for preventative care. While we can order a phenomenal number of tests and screens, they’re prohibitively expensive. For instance, a company called GRAIL offers a liquid biopsy test that screens blood samples for more than 50 different types of cancers. As a cancer cell grows, it sloughs off dead cells that enter the bloodstream and have a mutated genetic code distinguishable from normal, healthy cells. We know the genetic makeup of particular cancers and can test the blood for that genetic sequence to screen for cancer, often pre-stage 1. That test is not covered by insurance and costs around $1,000, putting it out of reach for many people.

What would you recommend when a patient is looking to optimize their health and extend longevity rather than address specific concerns?

When you’re young, your body is incredibly resilient: you can feed it fake food and skip sleep and exercise, yet you might not notice much, if any, negative impact. Things start to change when you get to your thirties, forties, and fifties. Your cholesterol and blood sugar numbers might go up; you’re not sleeping, working long hours at a desk, and even if you do get an hour’s exercise, you’ll see and feel the effects of ordering DoorDash for every meal and being sedentary for the rest of the day. Many of my Silicon Valley clients fit this profile: they’re relatively young and want to set a healthier foundation by scheduling sleep and defining eating windows where they prioritize optimal nutrition. As with any healthcare discipline, it’s always better to take preventative action, setting a foundation and changing behaviors rather than medicating symptoms after the damage is done.

Different specialists promote so many diets and eating methodologies it’s hard to know how to eat well to safeguard our health. What do you recommend?

Eat real food. Try not to eat after 7 p.m. Move your body. Dr. Satchin Panda–who wrote the book The Circadian Code–did some interesting research at The Salk Institute, which explores how our bodies are on a light-related circadian clock that meters the production of the hormones which regulate our metabolism. In the first half of the day, our bodies are primed for growth and tissue repair, and growth hormones–estrogen, testosterone, and insulin–are at their highest diurnal levels. Eating in the morning triggers growth in the body. In the second half of the day, things start to wind down. As melatonin production increases in the evening, it shuts off hormone production and metabolism, readying your body for sleep and detox. Intermittent fasting can be an effective approach to scheduling meals. Still, when eating for eight hours and fasting for 16 hours, you should start your eight-hour eating window as early in the day as possible (about 1-2 hours after waking) when your metabolism is highest.

Do you have any tips for jump-starting the body’s metabolism in the morning?

Take a walk outside. In terms of light intensity, interior lighting is typically around 500 lux but sunlight, even on a cloudy day, might be 5000 lux. When you wake up, melatonin takes about an hour to drop, so you don’t want to eat right away; if you can expose your eyes to as much light as possible just after you wake up, your melatonin production will tail off more quickly and your cortisol awakening response–when your cortisol soars briefly in the morning to promote wakefulness–will get your hormones in check to optimize your metabolism. Ideally, you would wake at seven or just after sunrise, walk for an hour before having breakfast by 8.30 a.m., and get as much outside light as possible during the day to keep your body’s clock in line with the light cycle.

About Brittany Kearney, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist

After graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Genetics from UC Davis, Brittany completed a Dietetic Internship through Napa State Hospital and Stanford’s Genetics and Genomics Professional Certificate Program. She received functional medicine training through IFM and specializes in nutrigenomics and epigenetics. Brittany offers insights into how we can live better, longer, through her Longevity Series talks at CANOPY.