Good Advice

Thursday, September 16, 2010

15 minutes with Manu: Meet the NYC institution who dispenses vitamin advice

In additional to consultations, Dawson also leads the occasional workshop

Manu Dawson is something of a celebrity in the world of natural foods, and supplements, and he knows it. He manages the Integral Yoga Natural Foods and Natural Apothecary in the West Village, and his bio describes him as a “healer for the 21st century and beyond.”

For two hours on Wednesday evenings (since 1990), Dawson takes a break from overseeing the landmark 13th Street health complex and from preparing his weekly radio show to give free 15-minute nutritional consultations in the Natural Apothecary. On some Wednesdays, he sees 10 to 15 people.

Dawson’s qualifications list him as Certified Yoga Nutrition therapist (C.Y.N.Th.), but it’s unclear exactly what that means. “This certification was given to me by Dr. Amrit McClanahan, based on her knowledge of my work and study for over 15 years,” he said, when I asked him if it was a degree program, where he studied, and for how long. “I’ve trained and taken courses in Homeopathy, Herbology and Clinical Nutrition.”

Huh. I’m not a stickler for Ivy League, but still, this was a little vague.

This downtown dispensary is a NYC institution

Last week, I went for my own consultation to see what Manu Dawson and his ‘Yoga nutrition therapy’ are all about. I nearly tripped over Dawson, who was lounging in a small chair right inside the front door, his colorful African-safari print pants stretched out in front of him. His arms emerged from a tight black t-shirt and stretched behind his shiny bald head, small gold hoops glistening in each ear. A welcoming smile stretched across his face.

There was no waitlist when I arrived (although there can be), so Dawson invited me to sit down across from him, two steps from the door and in the way of every customer, whom he personally greeted.

He looked at me expectantly, until I asked him how this usually worked. “Just ask me anything you want,” he said. So I did.

His advice depended entirely on my questions. If I hadn’t had questions about specific issues, it would have been a very awkward, silent 15 minutes. When I asked him a generic question about getting essential nutrients as a vegetarian, he issued a generic answer about protein and fats with every meal.  But when I asked about specific issues, he had specific answers.

Q: How do I get essential vitamins when all multis upset my stomach for hours? A: Try capsules or powder—they’re more soluble. Q: I’ve always been anemic, so what about iron? A: Try Floradix, a liquid iron gluconate that the body can absorb at a much higher rate. Q: I have a genetic mutation in my family that increases my risk for breast cancer. Is there anything I can do nutritionally? A: Take Indole-3-Carbinol (I3C), which is found in cruciferous vegetables and may reduce risk by blocking estrogen receptor sites and enhancing DNA repair. Um, I’ve never heard the words gluconate or cruciferous at the Vitamin Shoppe.

I asked him how he’s able to furnish answers to so many individualized questions. Twenty-five years of experience definitely helps, he says. “In 15 minutes, though,” he admitted. “I can only touch the surface.”

Needless to say, I left Integral with a very expensive bottle of 60 Indole-3-Carbinol with DIM capsules.

I looked up the supplement when I got home. While some studies have shown that I3C reduces breast cancer risk, and many more are in the works, the traditional medical research available has not yet been able to prove its effectiveness. Of course, that’s the case with most supplements. I also looked up Certified Yoga Nutrition Therapist to no avail. Manu, it seems, is a lot like the supplements he sells. Proven through anecdote and experience rather than credentials and hard science. But we love his shoot-from-the hip style and if you’re looking for plant-based, high-quality options he’s your man and Integral’s your place. —Lisa Elaine Held

Integral Yoga Natural Apothecary, 234 West 13th Street, between 7th Avenue and Greenwich Avenue, 212-645-3051

Free Diet and Nutritional Consultation with Manu Dawson, Wednesdays, 4:30-6PM. Prepare your questions in advance and get there early to put your name on the list.

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