Joy Stephenson-Laws, J.D. and Founder of Proactive Health Labs Interviewed

Joy Stephenson-Laws interviewed by Andrew Martin

Andrew: It’s a real pleasure to have on the telephone with me this morning Joy Stephenson-Laws. Now, Joy is the founder of Proactive Health Labs, located in Santa Monica and Sherman Oaks, California. And we are going to talk extensively about what Proactive Health Labs does. But we also need to understand that Joy is the founding and managing partner of Stephenson, Acquisto & Colman, or SAC for short, located in Burbank, California. She’s the co-founder and president of MoJo Marketing and Media, and the co-founder of the Bili Project addressing biliary cancer. Joy, thank you so much for joining us at Serene Scene Magazine today.

Joy: And thank you so much for having me. It’s a pleasure.

Andrew: Well, you are a very busy woman, involved in many, many different things.

Joy: That’s true, but they’re related so it’s not that big of a stretch. They are healthcare related, and since I’m passionate about healthcare I think it works out really well.

Andrew: Where do you think your passion for healthcare comes from?

Joy: Experience, my family, I would say, my parents who all had health challenges as I was growing up. My brother ended up becoming a cardiologist, and I watched him throughout his career and the difference that he made in people’s lives. And I thought, “If I were going to be an attorney I would want to do something in healthcare where I could contribute to the healthcare profession.” So in a nutshell, I would say family, family is what propelled me to do what I do today.

Andrew: Our readership is primarily professionals that are treating addiction. And you had mentioned to me outside of this interview that you have some experience there as well. Tell our audience a little bit about your family experience with addiction.

Joy: Yes, a little bit too much experience in that area. I have many family members, when I say many I probably have about three or four family members, that had struggles with addiction. One including my own child, which I was shocked to learn because it’s not as though that was a part that I had in my mind that could happen to him. And I think at the age of 16 he decided to try Ecstasy and loved it, and that was a downward spiral for a while. And I was very aggressive in dealing with it because we have no drug tolerance in our household. And we ended up finding a really great rehabilitation place to send him, and he has recovered fully. He’s now 24 years old and doing great.

But that whole experience was extremely traumatic on my end because I was totally unprepared. I had no clue how to handle drug addiction, and I had to learn a lot in a short period of time. So that had an immediate effect on myself. Now, I’ve had like uncles and other family members that still struggled with it until their death. And it’s a huge problem and I have found out that getting the right care is critical, and there are not too many places out there that really provide proper care that will lead to treating the problem, because it’s treated as an acute problem, and it’s really a chronic problem. So that’s part of the problem.

Andrew: I know that you’ve had some great success with your law firm, SAC. And it focuses, as I understand it, primarily within the healthcare world. Can you describe a little bit about what your law firm does and how it helps it’s clients and where you really focus your efforts there?

Joy: Yeah, we focus our efforts on healthcare providers, the ones who are responsible for making us better and patients as well. What healthcare providers do is that they retain our services to obtain the necessary payment from the government or insurance companies so that the patient does not have to pay the bills if they’re not responsible for paying the bills. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with denial rates, but there are so many cases or claims that are denied by healthcare payers as not being medically necessary. For example, drug treatment in many cases would be denied because it’s either not covered under the policy or it’s not medically necessary or they consider the type of treatment experimental, et cetera. So those are the types of issues that we get involved with on the healthcare payer’s behalf, and also on the patient’s behalf so that they’re not stuck with the bills after the medically necessary treatment is rendered to a patient.

Andrew: Yes, it’s so difficult at times when a family has a member that is suffering from addiction and they need to get them into an appropriate treatment program and they choose one that they think would be the proper fit. And at the end of the day they realize they’re stuck with a bill that’s 60, 80, 120 thousand dollars.

Joy: Yes, yes, and how many of us can afford to pay that right?

Andrew: It’s one nightmare after another, isn’t it?

Joy: Exactly. So those are the issues we get involved with. And I do recall, I think we have some drug treatment centers as clients as well at the law firm because they have difficulty getting paid, as you indicated before. So that’s the type of stuff we do at the law firm. It’s very specialized as it relates to helping healthcare providers and patients in that capacity only. For example, if a patient cannot pay their bills or they’ve been sued, we would not necessarily represent the patient if they had to do it in a self-pay basis because that’s not what we’re skilled at doing. But if it’s for issues relating to medical necessity or whether or not it should have been covered or whatever it is, those are the instances where we get involved.

Andrew: Thank you for doing that work and keep it up. Now, you also are a co-founder and president of Mojo Marketing and Media, and that’s an interesting business. Tell us a little bit about that one.

Joy: Yes. That was something we did, and out of charity as well, where we identified those areas where kids are challenged in sports and we introduce sports like golf to them because they’re not financially able to afford to play. And it’s one of those games that I personally love and I think it’s a life experience type of game. And so what we do is we put on golf tournaments. Our biggest one was at CBS a couple of years ago. We did it, actually, to benefit some kids in Jamaica who had not had the exposure. And we also put on content that promotes giving back to different communities as well. So it’s one of those things that I do that’s fun to do and it involves giving back to our different communities, in this case Jamaican community here. We have given to food banks, et cetera. So there are different charities that we are associated with that we work with when we work with Mojo.

Andrew: Fantastic. Now before we get to the primary topic of what this interview wants to focus on, which is your new book, “The Secret Weapon of Health” and the ways that can help you fight the disease and stay healthy using primarily minerals, which is just fascinating to me. I want to also cover and maybe give a little bit of background on the Bili Project.
Joy: I guess most of the thing I do in my life are so personal, personally driven, because the Bili Project came about because my partner, Vince Acquisto, I guess. I don’t know long we have been partners for, probably 16 years, almost 20 years. We had just got done playing golf the weekend before, and he called me one morning, I was getting ready to go to work, I think, and said, “I went to have my physical and I found out that I might have cancer.” I said, “Okay, fine. Must be early stages, right? You need to get it dealt with.” And then he said, “Yeah. I’m going to go check it out now. I don’t think it can be that serious,” because his blood work, the routine blood work that they normally do for routine physicals were pretty normal. In fact, I asked him to send it to me and they were reasonable.

And he came back and reported that he had bile duct cancer, something I’d never heard of before. And he had only a short period of time to live. I think he died less than two months later, and that was riveting. And that made me a little bit more aware of what my health was and my liver and the whole bit because he was not a drinker. And it turned out he had a rare form of cancer. There was hardly any knowledge about the cancer before. It’s also known as cholangiocarcinoma. And so I got busy and learned as much about the cancer as possible. His wife and I are currently with UCSF, one of the leading cancer institutions in the country, to provide markers for that cancer because if you don’t know what to look for you won’t look for it, and nobody was looking for that type of cancer before. So we have gone a long way in identifying markers for that cancer. UCSF is doing a great job, and so many things are changing every day as we learn more about the cancer. So that’s pretty much how the Bili Project came about.

Andrew: Wow. That a really interesting story. It’s a shame and I’m very sorry for your loss. But as you know cancer kills a lot of people and in many cases are not detected early enough.

Joy: No, and the big issue there is early detection because if you can detect it earlier you can obviously do something about it. But if you don’t know what you’re looking for, then by the time it hits you, and especially with liver cancer. The liver is such a patient organ that it will take abuse and it will just keep working for you until when it gives out it says, “That’s it,” and you’re done. That’s why when if you have cancer that progresses to the liver it’s gone stage four because once it gets to the liver that’s it.

Andrew: Yes.

Joy: So anything involving the liver you have to be really careful.

Andrew: How did you get involved in minerals and what minerals can do for us and keep us healthy?

Joy: That question would be relevant too with respect to how I got involved with PH and how I started Proactive Health Labs. And, obviously, the word PH, too, denotes acidity and alkalinity as well in our bodies. Minerals are such important nutrients that I don’t think that a lot of research and people were not looking at minerals as being as critical as they were, or they are. And, in fact, there are other minerals than the ones that we constantly hear about that people were not paying attention to them. I think it had to do, too, with the Bili Project and how the liver works and how we need to keep our bodies at a certain alkalinity in order to be healthy, et cetera.

What struck me was, we hear a lot about calcium as a premium mineral. As women we need calcium for strong bones, et cetera. So as a woman I was familiar with calcium, but there’s a whole bunch of other minerals out there, and they’re critical nutrients that nobody was really talking about. So what I did was work with some doctors to find out what are the critical ones that no one’s talking about, and how are they beneficial to us. Well, it turns out that there are so many others and they affect every single cell in our body and affect our mood, affect our heart, affect our pain threshold, et cetera.

It affects so many things that it was incumbent on us to do something and just create an awareness that, “Hey, guys, there’s more out there than calcium and iron and, maybe, magnesium,” which is still underrated. “And there are others that you need to pay attention to, like zinc and maybe chromium. There’s so many others. Here’s where you can find them. Here’s how you can test for them, and just be proactive and know that these minerals exist and maybe discuss them with your doctor to determine how you can incorporate them in your life.” Because one of the things that we have to realize that as we get older our body’s ability to absorb nutrients from food reduces with age. We get older, we’re not as efficient in absorbing them from food as we were when we were younger.

And the other thing, too, is the soils aren’t as rich as they were, say, 20 years ago. So if the minerals in the soils are being depleted we’re not absorbing them as well as we used to when we were younger, then we have to know what’s going on in our bodies to be able to test for those and determine whether or not we need to eat more minerals in order for our bodies to function better, or maybe we may need to supplement, work with a doctor to find out what we may need to do to supplement. That’s why, I guess age has something to do with it because as I got older I wanted to know what I needed to do to stay well, and that was partially, too, a motivation why I ended up doing the research we did and writing the book.

Andrew: I think I can understand why minerals are important to our bodies. After all, we are of this earth and minerals are all around us and they comprise a portion of our bodies, I’m certain of that. But how exactly do minerals get processed through in the body? What organs are in charge of that and why is it that as we age we don’t have the ability that we had when we were younger to process minerals?

Joy: It probably has to do with the fact that as we age our organs age too, so the efficiency level our bodies may have had when we were younger, those are going to change as we age. And as a result we have to be aware of that and compensate for those deficiencies. There are some hormones that we have that are gone by the time we hit a certain age, especially for those of our who are over 50. And so we have to compensate for that or they’re significantly reduced, so we have to compensate for those losses as we age.

Now, the heart is, for example, driven by minerals. The brain, in fact, we’re talking about drug addiction, the brain is driven by minerals and vitamins as nutrients. I’m sure our audience is aware that we have six basic nutrients. There’s water, carbohydrate, protein, minerals, vitamins and fats. And all of those are critical for the brain to function and work well. And any depletion or imbalances in our nutrients will affect our ability to perform well.

And as we are talking about drug abuse here, when we use drugs, whether or not it’s prescription or illegal drugs, we have to understand that they do affect the balance of nutrients in our brain, as well our bodies. And there’s going to be a loss of something, some nutrient whenever we use drugs. And the issue is for us to understand that when we lose it we need to work with our physicians to be able to replace the nutrients so that we don’t have severe side effects from using the drugs.

Now, if it’s a legal drug, that’s one thing because you’re making a conscious decision to use it because the benefits outweigh the disadvantages. However, if it’s an illegal drug, most people who are using illegal drugs, they’re not even aware of the consequences that arise from nutrient loss, or mineral loss, vitamin loss, et cetera. So that’s why when we talk about drugs and, perhaps, getting better, you can’t start to get better without understanding what was lost and how to replace what was lost, and then have a discussion about behavior changes because you just don’t have the capacity to change until you’re otherwise balanced.
Andrew: For most of us reading this article, we probably eat a relatively balanced diet. We probably take our top-notch off-the-shelf multivitamin every day and we figure, “Okay, we’re getting everything that we need.” Why doesn’t that work?

Joy: And that’s such a good question. How do you know that you’re getting everything that you need from the vitamins that you take, as an example?
Andrew: Well, it says so on the bottle, doesn’t it? It says you take one of these a day and you’re good to go.

Joy: Okay, so I’m going to give you a personal example before I answer the question. I have always been conscious about the important of vitamin C and whatever the recommended daily allowance is. And I took that and probably more. I eat tons of fruits and on top of that I would take a multi vitamin. Well, it turns out that I have this defective gene that does not process vitamin C very well, and I need way-more vitamin C than the average person to be able to absorb the daily recommended allowance. So genetic makeup could be one reason why you don’t know whether or not you’re getting what you need, even though you think you’re taking what’s necessary.

The other thing, remember we talked about before, is you may not, obviously you’re young enough at this point, but you may not be absorbing as much vitamin C as you need to because of just as we age. And the other issue would be if you eat a ton of fruits and vegetables which have vitamin C, those foods and vegetables might have less vitamin C than you think they have because of poor soils or just over time that happens. Or if it was something that was cooked, it may have destroyed the vitamin C and you did not get what you thought you would get.

So there are many reasons why you would get less vitamin C than you think or less of any nutrient that you might think that you need. And it’s so critical to not guess about these issues. There are simple tests that you can take. There are blood tests or saliva or urine tests that you can take to determine what your levels are. And once you know what your levels are then you can determine what the best dosages are or how much more fruit or how you can adjust your nutrition to address those issues.

Andrew: So Joy, every year I go to my managed healthcare physician, and he provides me with a physical, and one of the components of that is some blood work that he gets ordered up. And he takes a look at that and he let’s me know that I’m healthy or if I need to work on certain things. Is that enough to know if I’m getting the proper minerals?

Joy: No, and I’m sure you’ve taken a look at the blood work that they do, you’ll see the minerals that they generally test for in the typical physical is sodium and potassium and, I’m trying to think, the typical ones. I think those are the two big ones, sodium and potassium. If you’re lucky, now that research is so much out there about magnesium, some of the more advanced ones may test for magnesium. But I can bet my life on it that you probably have never seen a magnesium test on your physical, am I correct?

Andrew: I don’t think I have.

Joy: Right. And I’m sure we’re all aware how critical that mineral is. So there’s so many things that they don’t test for that are critical. And they test for cholesterol, obviously, and the usual suspects. Those are generally the ones that are recommended. But the real issue there is that in many instances for your potassium and sodium to be out of whack, you probably have gone past a certain stage where you probably are having a health issue that needs to be addressed immediately. So it may catch really critical health issues, but it’s not really true preventative healthcare.

True preventative healthcare determines what your nutritional status is and it gives you a chance to address those nutritional statuses before they become problems, and before they become serious problems, so that if you’re feeling a little bit tired and you’re not sure why you’re tired, then it would be important to know that maybe my levels are low, maybe my magnesium levels are low and maybe I should fix it before that exhaustion become and create other issues. Or if you’re feeling a little bit down or depressed, then it’s good to know that maybe your magnesium or your zinc might be down, or whatever, or you can’t sleep, then these are critical things that you need to know so you can fix them before they become really issues that are part of a bigger healthcare problem.

Andrew: So at the end of the day what we’re really left to is we have to take our healthcare into our own hands once again, and find somebody that can really look at this for us that is educated and that can, then, present the information to us in a way that we can understand.

Joy: Precisely.

Andrew: In your book “Minerals, the Forgotten Nutrient” you talk about minerals as being a secret weapon of sorts and combating so many things, diseases. And what really caught my attention is common maladies, like headaches and fatigue, anxiety and those kinds of things. So if somebody has, as I had, suffer from migraines on a regular basis, what kinds of minerals should I be looking at? Where do I begin my investigation and get some assistance?

Joy: One of the first things I would do if I were in your shoes is, perhaps, get a comprehensive mineral test to determine whether or not, indeed, you have too much or too little of any critical minerals. And the reason I say too much as well is that too much of any nutrient, for the most part, is just as bad as too little. You want to make sure you have the right amount, you want to be balanced. So, headaches, there are quite a few minerals that are relevant for headaches or pain in general. Minerals like magnesium, I’d have my magnesium checked. I’d have my zinc level checked, potassium, copper, sodium. These are all minerals that are relevant to pain. Research has shown that they’re relevant, and there’s an association between pain and those minerals.

And there may be vitamins, too, that you might be lacking or be deficient in or have too much of. So there are tests available that will determine what your levels are. And I would first determine what my individual levels were, and then make adjustments based on what those test findings are as opposed to guess and just take pain pills. Because if you just take the pain pills to cure the headaches you’re not really getting go the root cause, right? You’re just fixing the symptom. And it’s important if you’re to have a long-term solution that you’d get to the cause of the pain as opposed to always trying to fix the symptoms because by taking the pain meds those could be causing other issues, too, that’s exacerbating the other issues they already have. So that’s why it’s so critical to get it done properly.

Andrew: Are certain minerals more easily absorbed in a particular format? What I mean by that is in a table format versus a liquid format versus an organic food format?

Joy: It’s always recommended that if you can get your minerals from foods that that should be the first place that you get it, unless you’re seriously deficient and you need an immediate boost. There’s a bunch of credible information out there that discuss the bioavailability of minerals in liquid form versus tablet form versus getting it through the skin. As you know, for example, magnesium it can be absorbed through the skin, so that’s why magnesium baths. You’re probably familiar with Epsom Salts?

Andrew: Yes.

Joy: Okay, so that’s why a lot of athletes when they have pain or they’re sore they’ll put the salts, Epsom Salt, in water and the magnesium gets absorbed through the skin. So there are many different ways that you can absorb minerals, and I imagine each person absorbs it differently. So you just have to be aware that there are different forms of minerals, liquid, tablet, powder, and you can absorb it through your skin. So you just have to figure out what works for you.
Andrew: I’m sure that minerals can help with an addict who is in withdrawal, or post acute withdrawal, because they’re undergoing symptoms like confusion and lack of attention. Sometimes they just lack energy, they’re lethargic. And there’s quite often psychological effects, like depression and anxiety. What sorts of minerals might help with somebody with these symptoms?

Joy: To put the question in context, let me explain that what addiction does, as you know, is that it changes your brain chemistry. It completely changes the chemistry of your brain. And we have these little chemicals in our brain or neurotransmitters in our brain. One of them is serotonin. And whenever we use drugs it drastically affects that chemical, as well as others, but especially that one. That’s the one that makes us happy and not depressed.

And so there are many studies that show that gut health, for example, is really critical in ensuring that your serotonin levels are kept up to the proper level, it’s not imbalanced. And there are minerals like magnesium that have been associated with good brain health, and zinc as well is also another mineral that affects the brain, that has been shown affect the brain and serotonin levels. So those are some minerals that I would be aware of and determine how they can become deficient and test for them if I were recommending rehabilitation.

It’s amazing how rehab centers take clients in without exactly, or some of them, I know a few that do. But it’s amazing how they take in clients without knowing what their nutrient status is. Some assume that there might be low levels of B vitamins, and they would automatically give the client B vitamins. I think niacin is one of the ones that a couple of them give clients. But the client may need more than B vitamins. They need to have some kind of a comprehensive nutritional status evaluation done in order to determine how severely impaired they are as a result of drug abuse. And then you can start getting them back to normalcy nutritionally before we talk about psychological evaluations and other things like that.

So, there are minerals that affect the brain and that affect the neurotransmitters and will help them to be in balance. But we first have to test for those minerals when you have a patient who comes into a rehab center to determine whether or not the patient is imbalanced. And then you can start the procedure of trying to go through therapy and all the other things that we have to go through for rehabilitation.

Andrew: If I’m lucky enough to be in the Los Angeles area this is a pretty easy thing for me to do. I just need to pick up the phone and make an appointment and go and visit Proactive Heath Labs and they’re going to take care of me. But what if I’m in the middle of the country and there’s no place like this? How can I get these kinds of services and get this information?
Joy: We can order those services for you anywhere in the country. Meaning, we know the labs that perform the services, and they don’t retain us. But there are a few labs that do those services, so we know who they are. We can talk them and they will, wherever you are, they’ll find you and tell you where you can go and get those services.

Andrew: Now, if I want more information on minerals and their importance in our diet where do I find it?
Joy: For more information you can find it in our book. We provide a whole section of different foods that have the minerals that we talk about. We talk about 14 critical minerals, and we identify the specific foods where they can be found. We identify how you can test for them. We tell you how to be proactive in the sense that if you’ve been tested for them, are they looking for the minerals in the right place?

To give you an example, magnesium is very often tested in a doctor’s office, but they don’t do what’s called the red blood cell magnesium. They do serum magnesium. Now, for you to have a serum magnesium test that is low you’re pretty much close to being in a critical state. It’s important to find the magnesium level in the red blood cells, and that’s at a time when you can really do something and be proactive outside of a hospital. So it’s real important that you not only know that you can get the test but know what to look for. And these are all thing we talk about in the book, how you can be proactive about mineral testing, where you can get them and that kind of stuff.

Andrew: Joy-Laws, founder of Proactive Health Labs, thank you so much for joining us here at Serene Scene Magazine today.

Joy: Thank you so much for having me and have a wonderful day.

Andrew Martin