Millions and millions of Americans are affected by autoimmune diseases, and the vast majority are women. Chances are, you know someone affected by one, a girl friend, a sister, or you might even have one yourself! We know first hand how agonizing these diseases are, and the unfortunate part is, there is still a lot we don’t know in way of cures and causes for these diseases. One woman isn’t taking this sitting down. When you meet Minna Lee, you get the sense that you’re in the presence of someone who’s ready to get sh*t done; Someone who’s battled through a lot, and is ready to find solutions.
Minna Lee, Founder of the site Living Minnaly, certified personal trainer and nutritionist, and now entrepreneur, is creating a line of products to help people make small changes that affect wellness on a large scale. Her brand is called, Live 24K, and her first product, Golden Fuel, a turmeric blend, just launched this month, and has already helped many women (men too!) take healing and nourishing their bodies into the own hands. We’re sure you’ve heard that turmeric is an incredible and powerful spice that can decrease inflammation (the ultimate cause of many chronic diseases). But to hear Minna talk about the effects and transformations that have taken place within her own body after following a regime of 2 teaspoons a day is mind blowing. Plus, it makes just about everything 10x more delicious.
We met up with Minna over coffee (sprinkled with a little Golden Fuel) to talk about the progress she’s seen in her health thanks to her magic blend, the rewards and challenges she’s facing as a women entrepreneur, and the clear connection she sees between beauty products, food, and wellness.
The Moment: Hi Minna! Can you tell us about your journey into creating Live 24K?
Lee: Hi! I was a competitive figure skater for ten years, so I was athletic growing up. I went to school at NYU and worked at a PR job afterwards and was not happy being stuck at a desk and working on something that I wasn’t super passionate about. I wanted to make a bigger difference. I left that job and was the unhealthiest I had ever been because I was working 90 hours at a desk, similar to a lot of New Yorkers out there. So I started reconnecting with my body again and working out consistently. I connected to that athletic side of me again and decided to get my personal training certification. Then I worked at Equinox for a couple of years. I got my nutritional coach certification too, and that is what I feel I’m meant to do, to help other people. From there, my blog, Living Minnaly, developed because I wanted an easier way to provide information for my clients rather than emailing them all the same article and saying, ‘But wait! This isn’t true and ignore that part but this part is really good!’ I decided I just wanted this hub of information and inspiration for other people. That’s where the blog was born.
The second part of the story is, I had hip surgery back in 2014. After that, during recovery, I developed an autoimmune disease called Hashimoto’s. I didn’t know what was going on at the time and my thyroid was going crazy. I gained ten pounds in a week and lost it in a week too because my body was just going wild. I had a ton of hormonal adult acne, which I had never experienced before. As a teenager I had a little bit, but nothing like this. It felt like my body betrayed me essentially and I didn’t know what was going on.
I went to the doctors and didn’t get great answers so I decided to focus on my food and my lifestyle to try to heal my body the best I could by myself. I cut out gluten, dairy, and I started looking into anti-inflammatory products that would make me feel better because I was having incredible joint pain and digestive issues. I started using turmeric. I cooked with it a little bit and then discovered, through one of my European blogger friends, that Golden Milk has been used over there for a while and it’s an Ayurvedic drink. I tried it and it was delicious and I loved it. Within two weeks, my joint inflammation had gone down. It was incredible. I think it takes people different amounts of time to see the effects, but before taking it, I could barely get out of bed and put my feet on the floor because my feet would hurt so badly. It would take several minutes to get up. That disappeared and the inflammation from my acne went down a lot too. Then I started supplementing it with collagen as well. Collagen is a great source of protein and it also really helped with my acne scars, joint inflammation, and gut health. I was having a lot of issues with that, so the combination of the two [the turmeric and collagen] were great.
The Moment: So incredible that you were able to mitigate so much of your pain naturally. How did you decide to make it into Golden Fuel?
Lee: My product was born because a client of mine asked for recommendations on Golden Milk brands because I’d been raving about it but I found nothing on the market that didn’t have sugars or guar gum as an emulsifier. It shocked me that they were missing things like black pepper and fats because they are crucial to turmeric’s absorption. Essentially, companies were selling this healing product that didn’t really work. That bothered me. I gave my client my homemade blend and she loved it. I started mentioning it to some of my other clients, they talked about it to their friends, and soon enough I was running full speed.
The Moment: Why are black pepper and fat important? What makes Golden Fuel different?
Lee: Turmeric by itself, on chicken or in lemonade, is delicious, but it needs more to become bio-available in your gut. What happens is that the turmeric metabolizes too quickly in your blood, and can’t get absorbed by your gut and body Black pepper and fats help because turmeric is fat soluble, just like many other vitamins. It needs to be paired with fats in order for your body to actually absorb it. We chose coconut milk powder because it adds to the creaminess of the actual drink, and it also gives that fat component to make it more bio-available. Black pepper is super crucial because the piperine, which is a compound in black pepper, has been shown to help absorb turmeric in the body 2000x as much as if it were just ingested by itself. A lot of brands are missing that component of it or didn’t have enough. We’ve combined both of those and some aromatic spices to make it taste really good along with the collagen. You don’t need to add anything else for the nutritional benefit.
The Moment: When you were at the height of your struggle with Hashimoto’s, how did that affect how you felt in your body? Did you think you’d find a solution through food, or western medicine?
Lee: It felt like it didn’t even belong to me. I felt so swollen and inflamed. Especially when I fluctuated those ten pounds, it felt like I had one of those fake sumo wrestler halloween costumes on.
I’m a plan of action girl, so I don’t sit around waiting for things to happen. I met with a bunch of endocrinologists that were very old school in their thinking and were quite frankly disappointing. A lot of them wanted to put me on thyroid medication without really taking a deeper look at my levels. I decided to do it myself. I started researching and initially I didn’t know that I had Hashimoto’s because I didn’t get tested for antibodies. Nobody thought to test me for that. A lot of people with autoimmune diseases come to the conclusion of their hypothetical diagnosis and then hand it over to their doctors and ask to be tested for it. It’s so backwards. A lot of my friends with AI diseases had to be their own advocate for their health which sucks. Thankfully now I’m working with a functional medicine doctor to program a better regimen to address the few underlying issues that I still have.
With this company, I hope to funnel some of the profits from it into funding research for autoimmune disease.
The Moment: What results have your clients seen when using Golden Fuel?
Lee: It’s been a mixture of things. One woman developed hypothyroidism after she had her baby. She had been dealing with a lot of inflammation issues too and her joints were really achey. I put her on a regime for four straight weeks and in the end, she said she felt like she had so much more energy and her mind was clearer and her headaches lifted. Her joints felt so much better, and I think that’s the result of the turmeric and the collagen working well together. They both provide similar functions; Collagen helps your body’s natural production of collagen increase because we loose that over age. It helps get your body going with that production again and the turmeric clears the way for it to work by taming the inflammation.
The Moment: What are some of your favorite turmeric recipes?
Lee: Golden Latte is the classic way to do it. I make a Golden Cortado for myself because sometimes I don’t have time to drink a whole latte! When I first started, I was drinking it in the morning and it replaced my morning coffee. The smells of it invigorated me in the morning and gave me energy. Lately I’ve been having it as a night cap to chill out before bed. It’s part of my nightly routine now. I love putting it in chia puddings and overnight oats too. It’s so easy, you just dump a spoonful of it.
The Moment: How much do you have a day?
Lee: I will try to have a 6-8 ounce liquid per night and I like mine strong. I tend to put two heaping spoonfuls in there. But it’s important to remember that for turmeric, there are people who should be aware of how much they ingest. For people with kidney issues or high blood pressure, turmeric can act similar to Asprin in a sense where it works like a blood thinner for people with those issues, but not for everyone. I would suggest one to two teaspoons when you’re first starting out. It’s more about consistency than how much you’re ingesting daily.
The Moment: What’s next for Live 24K?
Lee: We definitely want to do some partnerships and collaborations. I love working with other women lead companies and small businesses that have practices that align with ours. Eventually I am hoping to continue along the line of developing products that fit with our motto, ‘we help you help yourself.’ As a trainer and a coach, a lot of people will hire trainers and coaches to do the hard work for them. You have to actually put that into practice. Buying this product for instance is great and having it from time to time is delicious and awesome, but if you want the benefits of it, you have to integrate it into your life every day. We’re hoping that this product is a stepping stone for our community to take those steps in integrating healthy habits.
The Moment: Biggest challenges and most rewarding aspects of starting your own company?
Lee: I’m such a creator at heart. I love seeing an idea going from concept to actuality. And the idea that I can help people on a larger scale than what I’ve been doing now, that makes me extremely happy. I know how much turmeric has helped me and genuinely been a big part of my life for the past couple of years, so to be able to share that with people and hopefully use that as an educational experience for people so that they are more aware of the different products that are out there. The good and the bad. I think we have a much more educated consumer now-a-days. Which is awesome, so I’m hoping to keep furthering that along.
I’m learning this new world of being a woman and trying to raise funding. It’s a huge realm that is so new to me. It’s such a different type of industry and type of people and personality. Navigating that has been challenging, but I like it because I feel like I can change the way things are done, or at least start to so that other companies can know that they don’t have to play with these BS politics.
The Moment: How do you see the connection between what you eat and how you feel and the effects you see on your skin? Does it play in to what beauty products you choose to use?
Lee: Food and how you feel is so connected in a lot of different ways. My relationship with food was so complicated for the longest time as a figure skater. I think that learning that food wasn’t a reward or the Boogie Man, but it could be something healing and something nourishing, was a big step.
In terms of beauty and how that translates, about two years ago, I started purifying my beauty routine. I don’t suggest overhauling it overnight, but starting one product at a time. When I started, there weren’t a ton of clean beauty brands on the market. Dr. Bronners was my go-to for soap, and still is.
Also, a lot of the bad ingredients like SLS are endocrine disruptors, which for me, as soon as the hormonal issues started coming up, I started purifying those ingredients that I was using daily. Makeup was the last step for me. It was very hard to give up my Nars and Mac. But it’s also peace of mind. Knowing that what I put on my body is not going to be harming it let’s me not stress about it and it has simplified a lot of my beauty routines.
The Moment: Favorite products?
Lee: I never used to use foundation, ever, before my hormonal acne. I found my favorite replacement in Vapour Beauty.
I like Intelligent Nutrients for shampoo and conditioner. I use Zuzu Luxe for my liquid eyeliner and W3ll People’s mascara. I just got introduced to Rituel de Fille. Their eyeshadow are great and their lipsticks stay pretty well. I’m a sucker for good packaging. Lilah B is an awesome brand. They’re paraben free and free of endocrine disrupter ingredients. Their bronzer is really nice, their eyeshadow quad is nice. I travel with their retractable brush.
The Moment: How do you stay in the moment?
Lee: Breathing is a really important thing for me. When I’m stressed, I’m holding my breathe and I feel very tightened up. I’ll step outside or take a few deep, calming breathes.
Also, it’s important to focus on what’s important in life. I think once you’ve been through a certain amount of trauma or life experiences, you’re grateful for what you do have. My mom always said to me, ‘Someone out there is having a way rougher life than you.’ It’s so true. However stressed out I may be, I’m lucky to be stressed about something that I’m working towards. Like this company. I’m so lucky that I get to be stressed out about this.
Special thanks to Minna Lee!
Header Photo by Sally Griffiths
Prop Styling by Paul Moreno
Portrait by Victoria Morris