When Mona Kattan signed up for a breathwork class in 2019 with Dave Catudal, she was so impressed by his “geeky knowledge in the supplement space” that she decided to collaborate with the health coach and research scientist on Humantra. The brand, which launched its first supplement, Hydration Hack, in February, is one of a handful of companies supported by Huda Beauty Investments, a fund and incubator that seeks to partner with “exceptional entrepreneurs”.
“I loved Mona’s energy. We got talking about nutrition and supplements, and she mentioned how interested she and her sister Huda were in the supplement space. One thing led to another and we decided to co-create a brand, with a combined vision of making a real difference,” says Catudal, who survived cancer and has studied functional diagnostic nutrition in North America and Asia, as well as natural plant healing with South American shamans in Brazil.
The difference he’s referring to? Offering people a product that will, literally, supplement health via hydration. “Our body, brain, heart and lungs are made up of between 60 per cent and 80 per cent water," Catudal explains. "So we are, essentially, water, and we need enough of it for both survival and good health.
Hydration Hack brands itself as an all-natural, plant-based drink that is sweetened with zero-calorie natural plant extract made from monk fruit. The sachets come in two flavours, Himalayan Lime and Berry & Pomegranate, that can be consumed between one and three times a day, in 350ml of water. Each contains all six essential electrolytes — magnesium, potassium, calcium, sodium, chloride and phosphate plus zinc and chromium picolinate for immune support — with Humantra claiming it can hydrate four times more effectively than water alone.
It’s a tall claim, but one that’s backed up by science. “Oral rehydration solutions are safe and contain an adequate amount of electrolytes that are required to hydrate in cases of mild to moderate rehydration, although it’s always recommended to get a doctor’s prescription,” says Dr Salman Abdul Bari, a general practitioner at RAK Hospital.
Impure water, too, is a cause for concern the world over. “While pure water is known as the world’s first and foremost medicine, impurities can cause bacterial and parasitic [conditions] that can lead to dehydration,” says Bari. “These impurities often enter through leaking pipes, lack of water disinfection, improper filtration and poor storage.”
Stress also plays a part, says Dr Marilyn Glenville, a nutritionist and psychologist who operates from Harley Street in London, and opened the Glenville Nutrition Centre in Dubai in 2018.
“When I started my practice more than 35 years ago, I would have done everything with food, but I don’t think we can any more. Stress depletes our minerals and vitamins. For example, we need magnesium when we are stressed, but research shows only half of the residents in the UAE are eating enough fruit and veg."
Incidentally, a healthy amount of fruit and veg can make up for about one litre of a person’s daily water requirement, says Catudal.
Glenville also notes that a lot of food that comes to the UAE has travelled hundreds of miles, while water containers are often sitting in a warehouse, so the nutritional value could be compromised before it gets to you.
“So in this situation, where stress is high and food [and water] quality is questionable, people must look to supplements, because some of these nutrients are critical and you need to top them up,” she says.
Catudal — and the Kattans — believe that's where their product comes in.
"If we were all farmers, scooping water out of wells or rivers, we would get all the minerals our body needs from the rocks and clay and sediment. But most water these days is pumped, triple-filtered, treated using reverse osmosis and sterilised, such that there are no minerals left. It’s why you can drink up to three litres of water in a day and may still feel dehydrated," Catudal says.
“We are not competing with water, but rather trying to collaborate with it. We are trying to tell water: ‘You aren’t what you used to be.’ We want to educate people that it’s great you’re drinking more water, but what you need to ensure is it’s nourishing you. And the only way for it to do that these days is if it’s filled with electrolytes.
“I dream of a world so healthy that nobody needs to take supplements, but I have to acknowledge we’re simply not there yet."
But, you cannot supplement your way out of an unhealthy lifestyle, he says. "You can’t eat junk food, then take a load of supplements, that does not work. Instead, get your nutrition in check and then use supplements as a complement.”
Next on Humantra’s radar are supplements for gut health, brain health and quality sleep. As to the philosophy behind its name, Humantra is a portmanteau of “human” and “mantra”.
“It’s meant to acknowledge that all humans, no matter where they live, are facing similar lifestyle challenges, be it dietary or the pressure to perform at work or the relationships we are trying to figure out. So the ‘human’ aspect of Humantra is this recognition that we are all trying to navigate life in health and happiness,” says Catudal.
“Mantra has so many different meanings, but we like to latch on to the repetition it represents. I believe our lifestyle is the result of our habits, and the quality of our habits dictates our level of wellness.”
This, he says, also ties in with the lifestyle changes that more people than ever are embarking upon, be it because of the pandemic or simply more access to information.
“I believe the future of wellness is headed in the right direction. The ‘lose six kilos in six days’-style headlines don’t work for everyone any more,” says Catudal. “Without question, many diseases that are prevalent these days can be prevented by healthier lifestyle choices. And these days, more people understand that in order to make sustainable change, they have to adopt these healthier choices. It’s why gyms are mushrooming, more meal plan companies are coming to market … there is an awareness and an awakening right now that health is our true wealth and that we are a lot more in control of the outcome of our well-being than we were told or had believed, but we do have to take ownership of that.”