Allure Cover: Tobi Ayodele – Keeney speaks on herbal medicine practice, obesity and inter-racial marriage
Tobi Ayodele-Keeney, is the Managing Director of Quincy Herbals, a natural weight loss, skin care and natural health firm.
After training as a conventional medical practitioner, the mother of two took over the running of a business which her mum, Mrs. Quincy Sumbo-Ayodele, started over two decades ago.
In this interview with Temitope Ojo, she speaks about her sojourn into herbal medicine practice, managing various ailments associated with obesity, what sustains her inter-racial marriage and more.
How did you get into this trade? Did you actually train as an alternative medicine practitioner?
I actually studied conventional medical practice; that is what I have my degrees in.
Was your course of study influenced by your mum’s practice?
No. Everybody knew that I always wanted to be a doctor. From the age of 3, I’d always loved to take care of people and make them feel better. However, my mum started Quincy Herbals when I was about 12 or 13 years old. Even before then, she’s always been involved in herbal medicine practice. So, from an early age, we were incorporated into the business.
As children, we helped her to source, prepare and do research on herbs. Especially, when she became World Health Organisation expert on African traditional medicine, I helped her to do research because my major in my undergraduate days was Biochemistry. I was responsible for looking for evidence-based research and writing journal articles on African traditional medicine. It was around that time that I took interest in it. But, I still continued with my conventional medical education with passion for natural medicine.
Now, what really made me go into it was when I started having children. I had my children through C-sections and my pregnancy periods were tough with complications. To be honest with you, what worked for me and really made the difference was herbal medicine. Conventional medications were just there to mask symptoms and they had their side effects. But when I followed herbal medicines and diets that were good for me, I just realised all my health problems subsided and pregnancy went on smoothly; breast feeding was like breeze. I then thought it was time to focus more on the business and find ways to incorporate my own learning into what my mum was doing.
So, when did you join fully?
I joined fully after my second child’s birth in 2014.
And, how would describe the experience?
I’ve found it a worthwhile venture because even at the World Health Organisation, they are pushing for more collaboration between African medicine and conventional medicine to improve the health of people and make the world a healthier place.
What are the new innovations you’ve incorporated into the business since you joined?
Joining the trade was one thing but revolutionising was a different thing. It wasn’t easy because at the time I joined, digital technology and media had become hot and we were still engaged in the traditional way of doing things. So, it was a very big transition to go into the digital method. We had to build a website and improve on information dissemination, educate and even reach out to clients, in terms of creating awareness.
The other thing we did was to get the products beyond the Nigerian border because we knew that traditional medicine is valued more abroad than in Nigeria. It’s easier to sell products (abroad) once they are sure that you are verifiable and the products are true.
We started selling on Amazon.com. We sell in five global market places: UK, US, Japan and so on. Our shea butter and detox range are top sellers. And, all the materials are 100% from Nigeria. We write this on the packets and people appreciate it. We, sometimes, have problems stocking because as soon as we stock, they are gone.
Why do you think traditional medicines are not valued here?
Unfortunately, I think that’s because Nigerians still think highly more of imported things than locally made ones. We value humans from abroad than we value ourselves, talk less of products.
Another thing is that in the past, our standards were not that high. When I was younger, imported products obviously looked better than local ones. But that is changing now. We have to start supporting our own brands to make them better. Nigerians need to realise that we are a valuable asset to the world. We do our own packaging here; everything is locally sourced and we just sell to the outside world.
Where do you think government can come into this?
Obviously, government isn’t doing much to change the perspective because most of the consumables available to Nigerians are imported. That is because many people want to make money through our borders. I understand that it is more labour-intensive because we don’t have adequate energy to power production but that can be worked upon if the government is willing.
Government needs to address the energy crisis. If we address that, business owners will not be running solely on diesel and this will, invariably, bring down prices of products and we can then produce more.
I am a small business owner and I know how much it costs to run the business. There is no subsidy on anything and no incentive for local production. For exports, there should be some sort of subsidy to make it easier to import machines or even fabricate machines here. We actually fabricate our machines here because we want to grow the system. We would love to get better machines but the taxes are too high.
Another problem we face is transportation. All our materials are sourced outside Lagos and so they have to be transported down here. By the time some of these products get here, they are damaged or spoilt because of bad roads.
You have a skin care range. What are some of the skin problems you’ve noticed are prevalent among Nigerians?
When we started, we started as a slimming centre. As most people lose weight, their skin become saggy and dull and they want to firm it up. Another thing is that a lot of people come to us with damaged skin from the use of harsh chemicals. We realised that skin lightening is a huge market in Nigeria as 80% of Nigerians use skin lightening products. And if we say they should desist from using these chemicals, we will just be deceiving ourselves. So the best thing was to offer a better way, which is the natural method, with no side effect.
The truth of the matter is that the sun is responsible for sun burn, premature aging and hyper-pigmentation. So people will always look out for things to even out their skin. But with the use of chemicals, they come down with thin and burnt skin.
A lot of products used for eczema are meant to be used for a while, cure the eczema and stop. But people know that if they continue with any of those products, it lightens them up. So they continue. And when it is combined with tube creams that have hydroquinone, they come down with stretch marks on feet, wrists, neck and so on.
We also have men who request to lighten their skin. Thirty per cent of our male clients also want to bleach their skin. Men bleach because they perceive women like men that are light skinned…
… I thought it was the other way round.
Yes, but I am telling you, based on our experience here, that we’ve had men also bring in their dark-skinned wives for us to make them lighter-skinned or they will divorce them. Some even bring their children!
What we do is to work on their psyche; that they don’t have to subject their children to making the children grow up thinking less of themselves. There are natural ways to make a child’s skin glow instead of bleaching. So we offer advice on that as well.
If a woman comes and says she wants to change her complexion and we do not see a reason for it, we find out what is responsible for her mind set, work on her mind and offer products to make her glow instead. Some say it is to get bank jobs, acting roles and so on. The thing is, we have to train ourselves to be comfortable in our skin.
We have so many unqualified ‘skin care’ experts out there now. How do we regulate them so we don’t have rising cases of skin cancer in the nearest future?
I call them mixologists. But, it is high demand that is bringing about increase in their number. Many of them claim to have a secret formula that they don’t want to disclose and you find Nigerians believing them. I think the only way to curb it is for people to develop self-confidence. And, if they want to alter their skin, they should buy from licenced vendors that offer standardized products with information about the content clearly written on it. An average Nigerian needs to change his or her mind set and care about safety and not immediate results.
November 14 is World Diabetics Day. From your interactions with clients, what is the prevalent rate of this disease in Nigeria, symptoms a sufferer presents and how do you manage it?
There are two types: Type 1, which usually is an auto-immune disorder. The pancreas is not working well and the cells are not producing enough insulin. That one happens in childhood. It is not due to anything done or undone by the child or young adult.
Type 2 is called adult on-set diabetes,and is caused by the inability of the body to produce insulin to manage glucose in the body. Usually, this is caused by stress from diet (eating wrong things); the body starts to have glucose intolerance.
People don’t see symptoms until they go partially or fully blind or they have a wound that does not heal. But early symptoms could include frequent urinating, always thirsty, regular weakness and low blood sugar.
Diabetes Type 2 is familial. However, that familiarity is caused mostly by diet. If it runs in the family and someone in that family decides to eat vegetables more and other healthy foods, that person cannot come down with diabetics.
Eating healthily is relative. A lot of people tell me some foods they consider healthy and I tell them that they are not, especially for those who have family history of diabetes.
Seventy five per cent of clients who come in for weight loss here are diabetic and are on diabetic medication. However, we found out that when we treat them of obesity, they end up not being diabetic again. They change diet and the herbs they take helps the pancreas to function better, the body becomes glucose tolerant and they get cured.
Can you list some foods that a sufferer must abstain from?
First of all, let’s know that, at least, 5 million people in Nigeria are living with diabetes and it’s probably 10% prevalent in the cities. So, it is safe to say that we have many sufferers in Lagos and other cities. In areas where yam and cassava are a staple, many of them start to come down with diabetes once they get to the age of 50 or 60.
The original notion is that one should avoid carbohydrate foods. This made a lot of people to become straight with their diet in a wrong way, with many taking only beans or wheat. That is not right.
We tell people to stick to a diet full of vegetables – green, leafy vegetables more – and low starch vegetables. We don’t tell them ‘don’t eat this or that’ because a lot of people do not know about portioning. If you tell somebody not to eat yam but plantain, the person will now go and buy a bag of plantain and rush it. The sugar level will come out very high because plantain has high sugar level as well.
We tell them to focus more on vegetables and very little on highly starchy foods. We also teach them about portioning. A diabetic person should not eat three times a day. They should eat six times a day because the body cannot tolerate the glucose as it is coming in. So, if you eat a full meal, it will spike the glucose in the system and insulin is not being produced enough to bring it down. So you start having high sugar in the body. But if you are introducing the meal in little portions, then the glucose is able to manage it through the day. We tell them, eat small meals, six times a day. No fasting, no large meals.
They also need to do constant check-ups, especially the first few months after being diagnosed. Before and after meals, you check your sugar level so that they know what food is spiking the sugar level and they can avoid them.
If people stick to green, leafy vegetable, low animal protein, high fibre foods, lots of water and their medications, they will be able to manage their condition well. We have herbal medications that we give too but we tell them not to think it is magical; they have to work on their diet, take water and exercise regularly. Over time, they can be free from it.
How do you source your herbs?
My mum belongs to the Eleweomo Association (local herbs sellers). In fact, she is their matron. We work with them to create job opportunities.
When you are not attending to patients, how do you relax?
I like to go shopping; even if it’s once in a year. I call it retail therapy for myself. I buy something for myself and I’m happy when I do. I also cook something new that I’ve never cooked before that may be a challenge. I also like watching documentaries.
I’m a young mother now. Relaxing all the way is not so feasible.
You’ve been in an inter-racial marriage for 10 years. What has been your experience?
It’s become part of me but when I think of when we first started, I will say it involves a lot of communication. Both of you need to engage in proper communication so that you are always on the same page.
Most people have the notion that Whites love to marry and in a few months or years, they are heading for divorce. They say the man gets tired of the marriage and even the woman has to change her food and so many other stereotypes. Some think it’s because you are so loose or spoilt and that is why you can’t get a Black man to marry. We are under that pressure and so we know we can’t afford to fail. And so, we talk to each other that this has to work out.
It also involves a lot of compromises and sacrifices. There are some things you both may never understand about your culture and so you have to let it go. What made mine a lot easier is that both of us are Christians. That common factor is the greatest of them all. We go by the same rules and doctrines in the Bible. The good thing is that you get to learn a lot about yourself and the other person and it makes your relationship stronger.
What does style mean to you?
Style means something that identifies you and makes you unique.
How would you describe your style?
My style is very fluid. I dress for the occasion; in something comfortable, yet classic. I don’t like to follow the trend. I like to be able to pick up something after five years and it still looks good on me. I believe in taking care of myself. I don’t believe because one is married, you start to look ‘mummyish’. You must appear as good as you possibly can. I don’t believe in designers either. If it is a local tailor that can make something fit for you, go for it.
How have you been able to maintain your shape over the years, even after having children?
I engage in yoga a lot. I don’t have time to go to the gym like I used to do before. So, I do yoga every day for one hour, be it in the office or at home. It helps me to relax, stretch out my back and pelvic area. Yoga is good, especially for mums who have gone through C-sections. It helps strengthen your back, abdominal muscles and opening the pelvic region. It’s very good for the mind too.
What would be your word of advice for young mothers like you on how to manage their career, with marriage and motherhood?
Prioritise and delegate. Don’t think you can do all alone. If you do that, you will fail. Realise that when you start micro-managing, you will just break down and end up giving 0% to all that you have to do. Make people to be responsible for certain things and supervise.