The Accidental Medicine Woman
As commonplace as it is for celebrities to endorse a brand, it’s not unusual for them to parlay their fame to kickstart a business endeavor. But for Jacelyn Tay, setting up her wellness center Body Inc. in 2006 was no mere “Plan B.” Clear-skinned and bright-eyed, svelte but not skinny, Jacelyn Tay the business woman is a far cry from Jacelyn Tay the Mediacorp actress from 10 years ago, when she was suffering from a string of auto-immune disorders including tonsillitis, eczema, chronic fatigue, skin allergies and irritable bowel syndrome. She was also plagued by serious migraines, to which the only solution was prescription painkillers, and even those stopped working after a while. It was through a cursory encounter with an old man working at a Chinese medical hall that she found her cure—a simple herbal concoction, which rid her of the migraine in seven days flat.
The other medical conundrum that stumped doctors was her fainting spells which occurred on a daily basis. After numerous brain scans and consultations, she was given sleeping pills, for lack of a proper diagnosis. It got so bad that eventually she was asked to stop working, and to take a one-year sabbatical in 2001.
Fueled by the encouraging results she experienced with traditional Chinese medicine for her migraine problem, Tay started reading up on and immersing herself in natural healing remedies and proper nutrition. After a year, she slowly regained her energy. The fainting spells also decreased, from up to five times daily to about once every half a year, and stopped completely after two years.
Her medical conditions aside, other personal events spurred her further in the direction of natural healing. In 2004, her father passed away from sudden cardiac arrest, and during the same period, her mother had a stroke. Compounded by the knowledge that her father could have been saved through proper nutrition, the fact that her mother has not had another stroke since taking natural supplements (as opposed to conventional, life-long clinical drugs) spurred her to start Body Inc. in 2006.
From a clinic specializing in Chinese herbal remedies, Body Inc. has since expanded to offer spa services. It also houses a café at the front section of its flagship outlet at Ngee Ann City (don’t expect Coke and chips, though). The mainstay of the business is its Complementary and Alternative Medicine, a branch of medical treatment which seeks to promote the body’s natural healing and defense system through a holistic combination of TCM such as acupuncture, cupping and Chinese herbs, osteopathy, aromatherapy, Western herbalism, dietetics and nutrition.
“To put it simply, we help people re-balance their systems,” says Tay. On her staff are a TCM practitioner, a herbalist, an aromatherapist, a licensed dietitian, a nutrition therapist and several healthcare consultants.
Treatment is administered after a scientific analysis of the client’s condition, one of which is through “live blood microscopy.” With the deluge of fancy biotechnology equipment being touted in the market today, it comes as a surprise to know that this analysis entails nothing more than a drop of blood, a good microscope and a skilled consultant to decipher the findings, all in a matter of minutes. While the center does not give diagnoses, “it is a handy way of getting live information about the condition of your red blood cells. It can check for blood stasis—a possible cause of migraine, numbness and stroke, as well as oxygen levels and presence of bacterium and parasites in the blood,” explains Tay. Dry facts and figures cannot beat the explicit images of squiggly parasites swimming in one’s blood when it comes to cautioning a client to watch his diet and maintain a healthy lifestyle.
In addition to the Chinese herbs like dang gui, ling zhi and ginseng that we’re familiar with, the center will be incorporating Western herbal medicine into its practices this year, where the healing benefits of herbs such as eucalyptus, tea tree and milk thistle will be used to complement TCM and modern dietetics. This is a first in the local alternative treatment industry. “It’s really quite amazing how God has already put all the medicine in the ground and the greens. Nature has everything we need—we just need to discover it.”
Indeed, the infancy of CAM awareness in Singapore posts the biggest challenge to the business. “You’ve heard of the phrase ‘prevention is better than cure’, but Singaporeans, being a practical lot, will not seek medical aid until something happens. But awareness is slowly increasing—sadly, we’re now seeing young people in their 20s suffering things like stroke,” says Tay. Another challenge is in educating people that there are no short-cuts and quick-fixes to health, as often demanded by clients seeking weight loss solutions. Even if there were, adverse side effects would usually follow. Slimming pills, for example, often cause insomnia, hair loss and nutrient deficiency. “After all, obesity or being overweight is not just an aesthetic problem, it’s a health condition,” explains Tay. “In a way, it’s very similar to Christianity—for real, lasting change to take place, it is never an overnight process.”
|PHOTOS COURTESY OF BODY INC.|
Despite it all, the business has grown steadily over the years with a second branch at Raffles Place, but there are no plans to expand beyond that at the moment. “In offering an integrated service such as ours, we need to allow time for natural growth in the company. As it is, CAM is still very much a new thing, and our TCM practitioners and Western herbalist are still learning so much from each other every day.”
What of the difficulty in transitioning from actress to businesswoman? “It’s not that hard because after all, it’s a path I chose for myself. But I did have to learn how to engage my left brain,” she says with a laugh, recalling the early days where her over-enthusiasm and grand ambitions took precedence over the fundamentals of running a business.
Besides learning to manage her staff and people’s expectations, Tay admits with frankness that the business has taught her to be a better person. “During my acting days, everything was about me—I had my personal assistant, my artist manager and my fans, and I never had to lift a finger. Now, it’s all about the business, and my clients take priority.”