"If you want to know what we can do about the drug problem in this country..."
When asked about his childhood, Ian reminisces: “It was a very good childhood; good parents who were very conscious of the importance of food and lifestyle, together with a good education. My grandfather on my father’s side was German, my grandmother was a Scot. My father was born in England during the First World War, and my grandfather was one of the European chefs interned in London.
“My father grew up in Germany until he was 16, then came out here, met my mother who was of 100% Irish descent, so there are some very interesting genes there. I remember a happy childhood. We set up an Olympic field at the back of our home in Bentleigh in 1956 and had our own little Olympics. There was always sport, good food and activity in the garden, growing veggies and all that sort of thing.”
Ian remembers his mother was always learning how to cook high quality, nutritious food mostly from his grandfather. “My childhood was one in which I learnt a lot about various foods. My grandfather came out here and was the head chef at the Menzies Hotel. And I think he introduced things like garlic and chives and so forth to the cuisine way back in the 1920s. So there’s a very strong link from my childhood to good food, good eating habits and good lifestyle.”
His family on his mother’s side had properties in the Riverina and the family went into Merino sheep breeding producing high-quality wool. In Year 11, he decided to do agricultural science, at Dookie Agricultural College in Victoria where he matriculated and gained his diploma in Agricultural Science.
There Ian became more confident he was able to accomplish things from an academic point of view. As he notes, “I was interested in what I was learning. I wanted to learn more, but I didn’t want people to ram it down my throat. So I learned how to become a little more self-reliant on my own thinking, and able to be critical about what I was being taught. I was Dux of the College one year, but I don’t think I could have been successful if I’d stayed in that mode and I wanted to do something else.”
He then tried teaching for a year and during this time he met some young doctors. Listening to their conversations, Ian wondered if he was smart enough to do medicine. All the universities in Victoria requested he re-do his matriculation and compete for first year. So he applied all around Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the U.S and England to get a place. He was accepted by the University of New South Wales and so moved to Sydney.
Ian wanted to be the best doctor he possibly could and his enquiring mind and lack of acceptance of the status quo soon began to shape his future. In his first three years at medical school, he found the sciences to be very interesting, but some of the topics relating to pharmacology and biology did not always make sense to him. He had serious difficulties when asked questions such as ‘what effect does Valium have?’ or ‘where does it work in the brain?’ Ian wanted to know what it did on a molecular level. There were no logical answers.
“Back in those days, everyone believed their professors without even double-checking the scientific studies. So I decided right back then that medical science was not really a science. Not a hard science. Not a science I could really take on board. In my first three years, I got high distinctions in most of the science subjects, and then transferred back to Monash for the final three clinical years.”
A change occurred when Ian came back to Melbourne and began to practice. He would see patients who had serious illnesses, who were being treated with chemotherapy, radiotherapy or surgery. As Ian recalls, “If they were sick animals, I would be providing them with proper nutrition; high level, high quality nutrition, and probably giving them supplementary nutrition, as you do if you want improvement in health, productivity or fertility. And it didn’t happen with patients.”
Ian asked one of the professors at Prince Henry’s Hospital about an elderly lady who’d just been operated on for a cancer who was extremely underweight and not looking very healthy. The patient was receiving saltwater in one vein and sugar water in another vein and having ice cream and jelly to eat – nothing else. Ian’s comment that the patient was most likely suffering from some level of malnutrition and was likely to be deficient in a whole range of nutrients resulted in his then professor looking him in the eye and replying, “Dr. Brighthope, this lady’s diet has got nothing to do with her disease.”
Even way back then, in 1969, there was literature about surgical patients being deficient in nutrients. Ian’s view was that if patients didn’t have the right nutrients in their body, there was going to be significant impact on their recovery. It was of little surprise to him that people died, got infections or had their wounds break open after surgery given the post-operative dietary regime in place.
Ian illustrates this point with the example of a woman who’d had three plastic surgery operations in one of the major hospitals in Melbourne. After the last operation on her face, she became psychotic; a toxic reaction to the anaesthetic. The hospital could not control her with anything they prescribed. They sent her to the hospital in which Ian was then working, heavily sedated. The psychiatrist said, ‘You better look at her.’
Ian gave her intravenous vitamin C, magnesium and vitamin B3 and within an hour she’d gone from acute psychosis to simply falling asleep. Her infected wounds started healing within two or three days because of extra nutrients, including zinc. Ian felt you could see almost in front of your eyes that those wounds would have not have healed within weeks if her nutritional problems had not been addressed properly.
In fourth year, Ian took a stand and decided he was not going to practise the standard kind of medicine. As he recollects, “I wanted to be the best at what I could do. I passed my exams but I wanted to get away from academia and the control freaks in modern medicine. Sometimes I refer to the fundamentalism within so-called medical science as like the extremes you can get in politics and religion.”
Basically, he just wanted to do a good job for his patients. Ian started looking at other health care systems and so-called alternative medicines. He went into practice and met an allergist who was doing something a little different in treating hay fever, asthma and eczema. “I brought the ideas back, set up my own clinic in the busiest part of one of the suburbs where the highest concentration of doctors were and colleagues said, ‘If you do this sort of stuff, you’ll go broke.’
Ian started treating patients, and instead of going broke, was offered admitting rights in three hospitals. He was very busy seven days a week, 24 hours a day on call. A six month waiting list developed in a very short period of time”
He had started producing high potency nutraceutical products and consequently, Ian’s business grew rapidly and the commercial aspects evolved organically around him. He opened centres in St. Kilda Road, Caulfield and Elsternwick. Ian was providing nutritional therapies and intravenous nutrients for his own centres and for other doctors and clinics and at one point had 26 nurses on staff.
Ian couldn’t believe how successful he was from that first point. “I didn’t realise how much the public wanted this because this was back in the days when any doctor doing alternative medicine or complementary medicine could be struck off. Referring a patient to a naturopath, chiropractor or an acupuncturist would result in at least a severe warning or worse.
Ian appeared before the Victorian Medical Board about 26 times because of complaints from doctors, not from patients. “In the end, the board tried to strike me off for advertising, for appearing on television and talking about diet and writing a book. They found me guilty, and we ended up taking it to the Supreme Court. We won and the Medical Board had to pay all my expenses. After that, there was no medical board in the country who would attack me or a doctor who did what I was doing if they knew I was going to be involved in their defence.”
Ian admits it was very stressful, but says with exercise, diet, and supplements and the right attitude, you can get through any stress. “You don’t need alcohol, you don’t need drugs and you don’t need to whinge to people. You just get on with it.”
Today, Nutrition Care manufactures, develops and exports nutraceuticals, herbal medicines, vitamins, minerals, amino acids, essential fatty acids, fish oils, capsules, tablets and powders.
Ian proudly states that “these products are manufactured under our own brands; Nutrition Care and my own family name, Brighthope. We also contract manufacture for other vitamin companies. We are one of the few companies in Australia which manufacture product as many local companies actually import manufactured product from overseas. “
In that regard, Ian’s resolve and determination was again tested during the period of the Pan Pharmaceutical recall in 2003, when other local manufacturers were tainted by the scandal. Overnight, the business lost millions and was almost bankrupt. Through his own personal investment in the business he believed in, Ian managed to keep the doors open.
Following the rebuild of the business after that period, success to date has allowed Ian to spend time on his passion for research and development. That’s a business imperative, given “research and development is critical; it’s absolutely critical to look at improving the active ingredients in products. The reason I do this is because I want to help everybody in terms of health and well-being.”
Nutrition Care exports to New Zealand and Southeast Asia and China. Ian is also passionate about wanting to export the company’s information, informatics, and services. He comments that this is “difficult under the current circumstances as a lot of business costs such as compliance and labour have slowed my ambition down significantly.”
At the same time, strong inroads are being made toward being a global supplier of product and information in five to ten years’ time. The concept which underlies the creation of this is that “it’s very important to understand who you’re dealing with in business, because business is all about people. And you’ve got to be adaptable”.
Ian’s other company, GeneCare, is an entity established to look at the interaction between genes and nutrients. They’re part of the new science called “nutrigenomics” where nutrients are known to influence gene expression as compared to pharmacogenomics which is where drugs are used to influence the expression of genes. Ian believes we’re on the right track with regard to nutrients that switch on good genes and switch off bad genes. There’s a lot more work to be done in this area which continues to fuel Ian’s passion for creating a better future for people.
When asked the reason he’s been so successful in business, Ian simply puts it down to love. “Basically, I love the people I work with, love the products we make, but even more importantly, I love the interest others’ have in what we’re doing. You go to dinner with people and nobody fails to ask a question about what they are eating.”
Ian’s passion for the future is underpinned by a firm belief that “part of the problem of our society today is that everybody is eating rubbish. Some people eat rubbish all the time; some people eat rubbish only a part of the time, but we’re consuming refined carbohydrates, sugar, white flour products and alcohol like it’s going out of fashion. We’re consuming chemicals and chemical additives in our food chain and these are destroying so many people.”
Furthermore, Ian strongly advocates that the drug problem here and elsewhere could easily be reduced if people focused on feeding their children correctly. “Don’t give them drugs, keep them away from antibiotics, painkillers and as many medications as you possibly can” is his mantra.
When asked about why he went down this track rather than follow the traditional path of a doctor, Ian was circumspect: “I did things the alternative way because I found it more interesting, I enjoyed it. In fact, I could say I love this area that I work in because it makes sense, because it’s realistic, and because it helps people. It helps not only people, it helps the country. This industry generates a significant economic and other contribution to the country. We reduce serious illnesses. We can actually prevent serious illnesses.”
Ian’s simple recipe for success in business is “if you do something good, you do something right and you do something on time, you get rewarded for it. You’ve got to be obsessive about it.”
He believes success is a process, not an end point so as long as you’re growing and developing, that’s success to him. His advice to someone starting out in business is to do something they’re thoroughly interested in. and into which they can put their heart and soul.
Three people have had a profound effect on Ian and his business success. Ian cites his father; Mr. John Stroh, who was the administrator of the College of Nutritional and Environmental Medicine; and the late Sir William Keys, who was National President of the RSL for 16 years. Ian fondly recalls that “he became a very close friend and mentor and his words, ‘Always remember to build bridges and be compassionate’ have stayed with me for years.”
Ian believes he’s doing all this for his family. “I want my descendants – my kids and their grandkids – and therefore possibly everybody else’s, to have a better life. I do believe, seriously, that we can influence peoples’ thinking by changing their attitude, changing their diet, and changing their exercise habits. I know people who change their diet and exercise, and take the right supplements, become not takers, but givers. That’s a fact. One day, science will prove it.”
- “Always remember to build bridges and be compassionate.”
- “Research and development is critical; it’s absolutely critical.”
- “Success is, to me, a process; it’s not an end point. If you feel that you’re doing something good, and you’re growing and developing, I think that’s success.”
- “If you want to know what we can do about the drug problem in this country, feed your kids right. Don’t give them drugs, keep them away from antibiotics…”
Professor Ian Brighthope thought he had a good idea but didn’t realise just how good it really was! Ian has turned an enquiring mind with a passion for answers, coupled with a frustratingly unsatisfactory education in medicine, into a global nutrition and vitamin production firm. He’s in it, however, for more than just the monetary reward.