Cass Nelson-Dooley, M.S.
EDUCATOR, AUTHOR, RESEARCHER, LAB CONSULTANT
Cass Nelson-Dooley, the founder of Health First Consulting, earned her Master of Science in ethnopharmacology, and, as a Fulbright scholar, researched ancient rainforest remedies in the jungles of Panama with medicine men and women. But her passion for science-based natural medicine began long before then and has spanned the last 23 years. After starting out in the health food industry, she studied natural product chemistry, ethnobotany, drug discovery, pharmacology, and nutraceutical research and development.
She has over 15 years of experience teaching doctors about integrative and functional laboratory results. In 2013, she started Health First Consulting, LLC, a medical communications company with the mission to improve human health using the written word. She enjoys teaching, presenting, writing, and researching how to address the underlying causes of disease, not just the symptoms. Ms. Nelson-Dooley has published in journals such as The Journal of Nutrition, Obesity Research, and Current Medicinal Chemistry. She is the author of Heal Your Oral Microbiome, and has co-authored chapters in Laboratory Evaluations for Integrative and Functional Medicine and Case Studies in Integrative and Functional Medicine.
Not long into my premedical tract at the University of Georgia, I found myself drawn to natural treatments for disease. I was fascinated to learn that over 75 percent of our modern-day pharmaceuticals originally came from plants, animals, or microorganisms. Nature offers treatments to our most terrifying ailments, including cancer.
Intrigued, I set about studying medicinal plants with the hopes of preserving cultural knowledge, conserving ecosystems, and finding new treatments for disease.
By a stroke of luck, I was surrounded by innovative medicinal plant and ethnobotany researchers at the University of Georgia. Unimpressed by organic chemistry (and the grades I got in it), I found out during a tutoring session that my professor was a natural product chemist. Dr. Bhattacharyya let me work in his lab on plant-derived medicinal compounds and suddenly I developed a love and interest in organic chemistry.
I read The Shaman’s Apprentice, which changed my thinking about human knowledge, medicinal plants, drug discovery, and our precious natural resources. It led me to meet an all-star team of researchers at the University of Georgia: Dr. David Puett, Dr. Brent Berlin, Dr. Elois Ann Berlin who had been awarded an incredible grant proposal called the International Collaborative Biodiversity Group (ICBG)-Maya between key players in the US and Mexico. Its goal was to preserve Mayan indigenous knowledge of medicinal plants, protect intellectual property, and make it possible for the Maya to profit from their medical traditions and knowledge.
We connected with Dr. William Pelletier, a pioneer in alkaloid research and natural product chemistry. Tragically, the project never left the ground due to a nonprofit group that publicly smeared the project and subsequent problems getting plant collection permits from Mexico.
The work on this project sent me down a path of ethnobotany research in Bocas del Toro, Panama.
Years later, I was awarded a Fulbright scholarship to pursue my research of medicinal plant knowledge and preserve it in the local communities of Bocas del Toro and Bastimentos, Panama. I had the opportunity to study in paradise. I traipsed through the bogs and jungles and rural areas of Panama with Afro-Caribbean medicine women and Ngobe curanderos. I even lived in a thatched-roof hut!
Taking my field research back to the laboratory setting, I joined the Nutraceutical Laboratories at UGA, led by Dr. Diane K. Hartle and Dr. Phillip Greenspan. I wrote my thesis on Black Drink, an ethnomedicine used by the Afro-Caribbean healers to treat iron deficiency anemia and parasitosis, a common cause of anemia. After graduating with my master’s degree, I took my first job as a research pharmacologist with Dr. Clifton Baile and Dr. Maryanne Della Fera at AptoTec, Inc. We researched plant-derived compounds for their effects on obesity and bone density: genistein from soy, epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) from green tea, ajoene from garlic, and other flavonoids found in foods and plants.
My background in plant medicine and pharmacy (and a friendship with Dr. Eve Bralley Cook, the owners’ daughter) led me to Metametrix Clinical Laboratory. I worked with nutritional medicine and clinical laboratory pioneers, Dr. Andy Bralley, Dr. Richard Lord, and Mrs. Carolyn Bralley as well as a star-studded cast of laboratory scientists, functional medicine experts, and business people.
My job was to consult with physicians about their patients’ laboratory tests. These cutting-edge assessments could tell if a person had healthy levels of vitamins, minerals, and hormones; whether they had food sensitivities; or if their gut microbiome was out of balance. With these tests we could identify root causes of disease that, once corrected, could change lives forever.
We were no longer bound to “prescription pad medicine,” as world-renown integrative and functional medicine leader Dr. Sidney Baker calls it. This seeks primarily to label a disease with a diagnosis and treat the symptoms with a prescription. Instead, we were looking for and fixing the underlying causes of disease. I met physicians who were curing the incurable. They looked for systems in the body that were broken, removed the bad stuff, replaced the good stuff, and turned around serious health conditions.
The door to integrative and functional medicine opened and I could suddenly see the biochemical underpinnings of illness. I saw people reversing chronic illness by treating the root causes of disease. It was transformative. And I’ve been hooked ever since.
I started Health First Consulting, LLC in 2013. I wanted to improve human health worldwide with medical communications: writing, web, audiovisual products, handouts, and more. I hired on writers to help out. I later fell in love, had a daughter, and got married (that’s a whole other story of course). I wrote my first book, Heal Your Oral Microbiome, at the suggestion of a forward-thinking publisher who thought the time was right for the oral microbiome to take center stage. And the rest is history.
Why “Health First?”
“Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Unfortunately, I learned that adage the hard way. In 2009, following a series of stressful life events, I had a sports injury that downward spiraled into a debilitating back injury. I was out of commission for at least a year and it took me two years before I was back at 95%. I couldn’t sit in a chair or drive. I had to work from bed for a time. I took medical leave from work. It was the most painful and humbling experience of my life. I had to overhaul my whole life. I had to adjust constantly to the limitations of my slowly healing body.
It was during my health crisis that it became crystal clear to me that “health comes first.” Without my health, I couldn’t be happy. Without my health, I couldn’t earn money or take care of myself or care for others. Without my health, I couldn’t enjoy life or do the work I am called to do. So, when it was time to start my company, one that sought to improve human health across the globe, “health first” was the perfect name. We must put our health first in order to fully actualize ourselves and to live the best possible life on planet earth. It’s non-negotiable. It’s why I do what I do.
I come from a family of writers, journalists, and storytellers. I have always loved writing and explaining scientific ideas, even though I got a “B” in freshman college English! When I got into the small business world at UGA, my writing skills were in high demand. I was happy to do it and it was easy for me. Writing assignments (whether journal publications or grant proposals) started pouring in and I loved it. Suddenly I was a “writer” and it’s been that way ever since.
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