Dan Murray-Serter - The Story behind Heights
The not so glossy version of starting Heights
As the co-founder of a Brain Care company, it's really important to share why and how we started Heights. Our journey actually began from an unusual place:
My own struggles with mental health: trying to solve my chronic anxiety and six-month long insomnia.
Having shared my story publicly on the podcast, Diary of a CEO, I realised it was time to share it here too.
So, here's the messy truth. 👇
Mental Health Struggles
Like so many people, I've struggled to come to terms with unpacking and understanding my own struggles with mental health over the years. In my experience, being honest and open about it has only led to having deeper connections with others but, most importantly, with myself—and learning to love the skin that I'm in.
I've suffered from burnout, depression, anxiety, insomnia, imposter syndrome, and bulimia in my life, but it was my experience of chronic anxiety and insomnia that led me to start Heights.
Sound strange? I'll explain.
Things seemed to be going well
I was 30 years old and my life was objectively great—I was getting married to my best friend, I had 2 cats that made me laugh daily, a roof over my head, and my mum had just recovered from cancer for the second time. It's fair to say that my gratitude practise was in full swing and I had a LOT to be thankful for.
Yet, I noticed chronic anxiety creeping up on me... frequently feeling sick in my stomach, quite shaky, and—bizarrely—sweaty when doing absolutely nothing. I completely shook it off—this is totally normal for any busy human. My life is great. I should be happy—but that didn't change the fact that I was struggling to catch my breath, even just sitting in front of a screen.
Hello, sleepless nights
The first time I woke up at 2 AM full of energy, I found it a bit strange, but—I'll admit—I was also kind of naively excited. I was ready to carpe diem and smash through my work, making me doubly productive.
I continued with this narrative for about two - three weeks, ignoring the obvious fact that this is clearly not healthy behaviour, especially considering the growing anxiety I felt during the day. Maybe I was the new Elon Musk—after all, he only sleeps two hours a night, right?
I didn't label it insomnia. I didn't really know what was going on, only that my anxiety was getting worse, and my energy was spiking at all the wrong times.
Maybe medication could help?
I tried to self-medicate at first. Maybe no alcohol would hold the answer—or maybe it was a lot of alcohol. Ok... that was only giving me hangovers. What about a sleeping app or meditating before bed?
Finally, I turned to help—first seeing a therapist and then a sleep therapist. Neither was able to find a solution, and the as months passed, I was still only averaging about two hours a night.
I even tried the doctor—who just recommended sleeping pills. I may have been desperate, but I refused to take them. I had read enough to know that this didn't need a quick fix, I needed to get to the root of the problem.
Some food for thought
I was at dinner with a friend, explaining the last five months in an exhausted ramble.
She listened patiently and asked me if I'd considered my brain's nutrition as a cause. I honestly thought she was a bit weird or I was hearing things due to my lack of sleep. I'd never heard of brain nutrition—but at this point—five months in to barely sleeping—I was hopeless and open to trying pretty much anything.
I bought a couple of books on the topic—Genius Foods and Optimum Nutrition for the Mind—in the hope of understanding what she meant. It piqued my interest and I booked in to see a dietitian on the NHS.
Was my plant-based diet to blame?
I didn't know what a dietitian was at the time, I'd only heard of nutritionists, aka everyone on Instagram 😉. Turns out nutritionists treat well people and anyone can be one whereas dietitians work with sick people. They are medically trained and credible scientists with a tonne of training, which is why they work with the NHS.
By this point, I certainly felt like a sick person... and she diagnosed me pretty rapidly.
Together, we assessed my diet—I was plant-based at the time—and she instantly pointed out that a lot of people come to her with mental health problems because they are increasingly vegetarian (like she was). She indicated that you don't realise that you are cutting some key nutrients you need from your brain, that are ultimately hard to get naturally from a plant-based diet. This can lead to it being starved and the downstream effect = mental health problems.
Being recommended supplements
She recommended three supplements (from high-quality sources) - DHA omega 3s, blueberry extract, and B vitamin complex to try and counter the impact of my deficits:
- DHA omega 3s - because your brain is 60% fat and 90% of that fat is the compound DHA. It is literally what your brain is made of, and very hard to get in a plant-based diet. Truth be told, as I've learned, it's hard in any diet due to modern farming!
- B vitamin complex - because my body was spiking in energy at all the wrong times and B vitamins regulate the energy throughout the brain and body.
- Blueberry extract - because as a powerful antioxidant it would clean out my 'glymphatic system' of my brain as I slept.
But do supplements work?
Naturally, I was sceptical, I was not a fan of the sleep medication nor receiving more pills now. But I was also desperate. I spent more than £100 on a month's supply of all these different supplements.
It sounds crazy—but within two weeks, my anxiety had reduced dramatically. I was sleeping through the night... I was amazed, especially given nothing else had worked yet. Maybe this dietitian was on to something.
What is the science behind it?
Wanting to know more about why or how this could happen - I started reading scientific papers on nutrition and mental health and was pretty surprised to see the masses (hundreds +) of evidence-based papers relating to nutrition as well as optimising your cognitive performance for productivity, performance, decision-making, and more.
I even started writing a Sunday newsletter that shared everything that we (my best friend and business partner, Joel) called "Brain Care", translating the tough science to short and snappy articles. This became my new obsession and business.
100+ emails and interviews later
The number of subscribers grew and it felt good helping other people care for their brain too. Seeing the role that supplements played in my brain care, it seemed only natural to help others find brain supplements, but Joel and I didn't want to suggest to everyone to spend £100 a month on supplements. We also didn't want to recommend them to take multivitamins (often filled with additives and all kind of nasties as well as not having the recommended doses).
Coming from a user experience background, we decided to do our research first and conduct interviews. We also teamed up with a neuroscientist, Dr Tara Swart, and dietitian, Sophie Median, to develop a truly smart supplement.
The broken promise of supplements
We went by house after house and saw people's supplement habit tended to be the following:
A cupboard filled with eight different supplements. People would open the cupboard see all these half-broken promises of I'd take vitamin C, vitamin D and that and just end up closing the cupboard.
We realised brain care needed to be easy (the main nutrients you need for your brain in one bottle) and top of mind.
We designed a supplement that contained the three main ingredients I got recommended and more so that it was just two pills a day.
The other part people always forget to take it with their meal and then end up skipping because supplements need to be taken with food. So we also used an omega 3 on the outside, nutrients on the inside. you absorbed the nutrients slower and better but also you could take it without food at any time.
One year later
I wanted to help other people on the same journey that I went through but without the struggles. That it would be easy for them to take care of their brain and build a habit. It has been almost a year since we released the Smart Supplement and the reactions have fuelled us each and every day to keep going.
Reaching your Heights
We'd love you to join the tribe by putting your brain first with our smart supplement and together we can reach our Heights. 🚀
We have plenty of other free resources to help you reach your Heights:
- Working In' Podcast. Our podcast is #1 in 'Mental Health' & Top 10 in 'Health & Wellness' in Apple Podcasts - each episode is <15 minutes & features fellow tribe members including Stephen Fry, Jay Shetty, Dr Tara Swart, Dr Rangan Chatterjee, Rhiannon Lambert, Dr Daniel Amen, you can listen to it here.
- Weekly Sunday Supplement. Every Sunday you can expect a snappy email (in under 3 minutes) explaining what science says is good for your brain, in plain English. You can sign up here.
- Creative insights. For the visual amongst you, brain teasers, nutritional insights & live interviews with experts can all be found at our Instagram channel (@yourheights) here
Always feel free to reach out to me: email@example.com with any questions or your story if you can relate,
P.S Follow me on instagram and twitter @danmurrayserter for all things mental health.