PURICA founder Jason Watkin shares his philosophy and inspiration behind the brand.
BY DAVID HOLT
Growing up in British Columbia, Jason Watkin loved to play sports. He saw the downside, however, as many of his athletic friends had knee and back injuries. At age 16 he was in a serious car accident. As he recovered, he gained a new awareness of how the body reacts to stress, which can come from injury or illness or just living in the modern world. “Stress alone can break you down,” he says.
He gravitated to science and sports medicine, studying biochemistry at the University of Victoria and also Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Then, he followed his cousin who is a dancer to Europe and worked as a nutritionist with the Royal Dutch Ballet. There, he saw how prone dancers are to injury. The difficult movements and repetition inevitably take their toll. To make things even more challenging, they are also under constant pressure to keep their weight down.
“This is very destructive,” he says. “It makes them susceptible to autoimmune and connective tissue issues. Life in the theatre world is very exciting, but behind the scenes there is a lot of inflammatory disease. Dancers can end up with eating disorders and gut problems that rob them of essential nutrients.”
This experience in Europe sparked his interest in developing natural products to reduce inflammation. After doing research in the literature, he started formulating a product to help dancers come back from injury. He investigated traditional medicines that use plants, including the polyphenol class such as bioflavonoids and catechins found in teas and berries.
“I wanted to create products that help you heal as you get older,” he says. “I wanted to optimize how cells behave so you could heal like a kid.”
He found that certain plant-based compounds help tissues become more stable and more flexible. They increase the fluidity and flexibility of cell membranes, which helps them to receive hormones and decrease insulin insensitivity.
The initial formulation, later called Recovery, was based on EGCG, proanthocyanidins, theaflavin and resveratrol for joint and muscle pain and stiffness. As it gained traction in the world of dance, his brother Trevor used it successfully on his own long-time skin condition. The family decided it was time to build an organization to market this initial product. His brother Trevor and his parents mortgaged their houses to launch PURICA, based in their hometown of Duncan, on Vancouver Island.
The name PURICA combines “pure” and “care,” reflecting the natural purity of the products and the care they put into their formulations. The logo incorporates a modified triskelion, a Celtic symbol involving the interplay of three entities, invoking the PURICA mantra “Nature. Science. You.”
As Recovery was gaining traction, a veterinary version was tested on horses that had been given corticosteroids for inflammation. In turn they needed antibiotics because the steroids were suppressing the immune system, leading to inflammation and actually decreasing muscle mass and eventually bone density.
The results of a trial in the United States was published in Horse Journal. The company went from nowhere in the industry to the phone ringing off the hook. “There is no placebo effect with animals,” says Watkin. “The vets either see improvement or they don’t.”
Later Watkin developed PURICA Provascin, a product that targets cardiovascular issues, after his uncle had a ruptured aorta and his father had a heart attack on the operating table. That was 25 years ago. As an added benefit, PURICA products are safe to take with pharmaceuticals. MDs use Recovery and Provascin along with conventional medications. “My father used to take eight drugs plus Provascin,” says Watkin. “He’s alive and healthy and 75.”
States of body and mind
As science has shown, there is a clear relationship between stress and disease. “When the mind is relaxed you feel like you’re getting along in the world,” says Watkin.
“This the opposite of the hypercompetitive world we live in today. Younger people handle stress well, but over time it breaks down our bodies. We are aging faster.”
Central to the stress response is the difference in the balance of the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic is for “fight or flight” and the parasympathetic for “relaxation and recovery.”
The fight-or-flight mode is designed for short-term energy. It helped our ancestors deal with physical threats. Now most of the stress is mental and the energy boost actually turns on the body. Too much time in the sympathetic can be destructive, interfering with blood clot formation and other basic functions.
“I looked at the individual cell as a reflection of the body and mind,” says Watkin. “When we stay in the fight-or-flight response, our minds become inflexible. We are filled with tension. We can’t remember things. Our sugars spike and we are tired and have mood swings.”
Ironically, the pressure of creating new products and running the company took its toll. Watkin was working too much and sleeping too little. He started investigating psychology, which has a big influence on how people respond to the world. “If you live in a state of stress, of ‘dis-ease,’ it initiates the sympathetic state,” he says.
He began to spend time in nature and get more exercise, including yoga. He investigated the ancient wisdom traditions that help people feel calm and clear-minded, studying comparative literature and philosophy. He focussed on the Indo-Tibetan tradition. “I wanted to learn more about how the mind works. How can people stay relaxed and calm?”
While immersed in subjects like anti- aging techniques, digestion and sleep, he focussed more on the mushrooms that have been used traditionally in Tibet and China as the “top tier of their medicines.” These include Reishi, Lion’s Mane, Cordyceps and Chaga.
His research led him to develop Immune 7, a formulation of six medicinal mushrooms and nutricol® to support immunity, strengthen the body’s response to stress and optimize health. It is used for serious conditions and just to strengthen the immune system.
Then he formulated PURICA Complete 360, based on Ashwagandha and mushrooms, to help people feel younger and have a clear mind. “Complete 360 helps you to live like when you were a child.”
Today researchers at PURICA continue to develop new products to help people both physically and psychologically. “It’s the idea of body, mind, spirit. If people don’t like the term spirit, we can say we help you spend more time in the parasympathetic state. We are seeing age-defying results.”
Asked about his own philosophy, Watkin muses and replies, “You could define me as a Buddhist/ Celt. There is no one perfect way to live your life.”
While still active at PURICA, he is launching a new business Beachside Kayak on Salt Spring Island to provide kayaking and paddle boarding on the ocean. It has connected him with the First Nations people in the Gulf Islands. “The wisdom traditions of the world bring ancient messages back into our lives,” he says. “They help us to open up, to realize the lives we live are not always who we really are. We ask: Am I over-reacting to the world?”
Watkin has a science background, but he sees the downside of our obsession with technology. “I think the new generation will eventually get enough of all these machines that are set up to make you tired,” he says. “They will see the negative side and want to heal. We are faced with constant distractions and ridiculous information overload. We resist being present. When we are part of a real community, we feel better and perform better. We need to get back to this.”