Stay Healthy This Winter! Focus on Prevention.

Sara Thyr, ND

Every knows that along with all of the fun and celebration of the holiday season, we are also often fraught with colds and flus. I have a few simple and important tools to help you stay healthy this winter.

Don’t let the sugar demon fool you. 

Don’t just have some cookies, candy, pie or cake “just because it is the holidays.” Sugar depresses your immune system for at least 4 hours after you consume it. And if you are consuming it continually, then you’re living with a sub-optimal immune system. I don’t expect anyone to be perfect, but keep in mind that sugar should be a treat, not the norm. And if it is not something you really love, don’t have it just because it is there or because others around you are eating it. 

Wash those grubby mits!

Scientific evidence shows that people who wash their hands frequently have a significantly lower incidence of colds and flus during the winter. It is one of those simple things that you can do that really make a huge difference. 

Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds every hour or so, before and after eating, after using the restroom, touching a pet, or being around or touching anyone who is sick. 

Here are tips for the perfect hand washing:

  1. Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), turn off the tap, and apply soap.
  2. Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and don’t forget under your nails (lots of little bacteria and germs can hide out here!).
  3. Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Not sure how long that is?  Hum Jingles Bells, Row, Row Row Your Boat or the Happy Birthday song from beginning to end twice.
  4. Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.
  5. Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them.

If you can’t be near a sink with running water and soap, it is reasonable to use anti-bacterial hand sanitizers or wet wipes. Neither is as good as regular old hand washing, nor as good for the environment, but better than nothing in a pinch.

Avoid antibacterial hand soaps. Triclosan is the main active ingredient in antibacterial hand sanitizers. It gets washed down your drain and into the streams and groundwater and is damaging to fish and wildlife. The Environmental Working Group calls triclosan “neither safe nor effective.” ( 

Instead choose a regular liquid or bar unscented or only natural essential oil scented soap, free of parabens and phthalates (most fragrances). 

Optimize your Digestion

Absorption of nutrients is the key to good health. Everything you put in your mouth is the food for all of your cells. I like thinking about food this way – it helps to keep on track. You wouldn’t put a bag of donuts into the gas tank of your car. Think of your body similarly. It needs good fuel. And if your digestion is not functioning properly, then it is important to correct that. Experiencing symptoms like constipation, loose stools and acid reflux are all signs that you are not processing your nutrients properly. Either you are eating things that your body cannot break down well, or you perhaps are not making the digestive enzymes necessary for ideal food assimilation. Making sure that you have excellent gut flora health is also important. Often we need to take probiotics to assist this. The sad news on this is buyer beware. Many probiotics on the store shelves do not have what that say they have on the label, while more still are contaminated with other bacteria, that in a fragile environment, can do more harm than good. A probiotic with a lot of good clinical research behind it is Microbiome’s Mega Sporebiotic.  We also frequently use oral lozenges that have the strain strep salivarius, which has been shown to decrease the number of colds and ENT infections if taken regularly.

Foods that can help both improve digestion as well as boost your immune system include: dark, leafy greens, whole grains, lean organic proteins (like chicken and fish) and lots and lots of cooked vegetables. Some people make a smoothie to get more vegetables in. It’s easy during the holidays to be overwhelmed with parties, activities and exposure to rich and sugary foods. Make a big pot of soup on the weekend or roast some vegetables so that you have better choices during the week. 

Taking Some Nutrients Can Give You a Boost!

Vitamin D and K – I  recommend that they be taken together. Vitamin D is very important and most people at this (Northern California) latitude are low. It is crucial for immune function, as well as a host of other things like mood, bone health, heart health and skin. While most people are low, it is a fat soluble nutrient so if you haven’t had it checked lately, do that before you start a regimen. Vitamin K helps it be better absorbed, and adds to the bone and heart protection.

Vitamin A and Beta Carotene

These are splendid immune boosting nutrients. Vitamin A not only boosts your own immune system but also has antiviral activity. It can cause birth defects if taking over 5000IU during pregnancy. So if you are pregnant or could become pregnant, stick to the low dose or Beta Carotene, which cannot convert to the teratogenic version, but still has great health benefits. One fantastic source for Beta Carotene is Spirulina. Take this daily or add to your smoothies for a great boost. 

If it’s safe for you to take Vitamin A, 10,000IU/day is a good dosage. Take it with food since it is fat soluble, so it will be better absorbed. Also – since it is fat soluble, it can accumulate and cause toxicity, so be sure to take some breaks. I suggest not taking it every day, or take a couple of weeks off after you have taken if for a month.


Tried and True Vitamin C

Vitamin C is an essential nutrient, which means our bodies need it and cannot make it themselves. So we have to consume it. Luckily it is found in a number of fruits and vegetables, so most of us in this country are lucky enough to not be deficient. So does it makes sense to take more? I love vitamin C – it is an excellent antioxidant, it can help with skin and tissue integrity (fewer wrinkles!), and supports our immune system function. One recent study showed that taking vitamin C daily can decrease the number of colds in active people (but did nothing for the rest of the population). Other research shows that taking vitamin C during a cold can decrease the duration, but only at dosages of 6-8 grams (that is 6000-8000mg – that is enough to cause diarrhea in some people!). Taking 3-4 grams/day did not seem to decrease the duration of the cold. If you are going to take high dose vitamin C, be sure to get a buffered C, which should reduce the digestive side effects. Of course, discontinue it if you are experiencing severe digestive difficulties.

Fish Oil

Omega 3 fatty acids, found in high dosages in certain cold water fish, have long been known to be another essential nutrient. The omega 6’s and 9’s we tend to get more of in our diet. They are more common in vegetables and grains, and meat contains omega 9s. It is the omega 3 fatty acids that convey the most health benefits, and are more rare in our diets. Of course, you can get them in foods, but I don’t know many people who want to have sardines for lunch every day. (But if you like them, it is a fantastic source, and also contains some calcium, so they are a very nutritious food!) Even the healthiest of people can use a boost of their omega 3 fatty acids. Taking a high quality fish oil is one of the most common recommendations I make, and especially in the winter. Fish oil has myriad health benefits, including boosting mood, protecting your heart, providing good levels of the beneficial HDL cholesterol as well as excellent immune support. Omega-3 fatty acids, DHA and EPA, also help the good flora of one’s digestive tract maintain gut health. Research shows the omega 3 fatty acids with along with the gut microbiota help to maintain intestinal wall integrity, which in turn also supports immune system function. 

Essential Oils

While I was researching fish oils above, I came across this article that I know some of you would really appreciate. There are good immune supportive effects of many essential oils, in particular eucalyptus and ginger.

The common cold is incredibly abundant this time of year. Try to maintain your own good health and that of your family by instituting some healthy practices and high quality supplements.

Mandatory Vaccinations and the Personal Belief Exemption

Due to the passing of Senate Bill 277 (SB277) in California, it is mandatory for total immunization of “appropriate age groups” against the following childhood diseases:

  1. Diphtheria
  2. Hepatitis B
  3. Haemophilus influenzae type b
  4. Measles
  5. Mumps
  6. Pertussis (whooping cough)
  7. Poliomyelitis
  8. Rubella
  9. Tetanus
  10. Varicella (chickenpox)

A parent or guardian who does not want their child immunized against any or all of these diseases may file a personal belief exemption (PBE) by December 31, 2015. This is valid for a private or public elementary or secondary school, child day care center, day nursery, nursery school, family day care home, or development center.

A PBE is valid until your child advances to the next “grade span” or in other words, until they move up to the next school or change schools. The law states that a grade span is:

  • Birth to preschool
  • Kindergarten through grade 6
  • Grades 7-12

For example, if your child started Kindergarten in the fall of 2015 and files a PBE by December 31, 2015, no further vaccines will be required and no other exemption will be asked for until 7th grade. However, when this child enters 7th grade then all the required vaccines must be up to date. If your child started 7th grade in the fall of 2015, then a PBE filed by December 31, 2015 is good through high school.

After December 31, 2015, vaccine exemptions will be available for medical reasons only, not for personal beliefs. SB277 states:

“If the parent or guardian files with the governing authority a written statement by a licensed physician to the effect that the physical condition of the child is such, or medical circumstances relating to the child are such, that immunization is not considered safe, indicating the specific nature and probable duration of the medical condition or circumstances, including, but not limited to, family medical history, for which the physician does not recommend immunization, that child shall be exempt from the requirements of Chapter 1.”

These are some of the situations in which a medical exemption may be warranted:

  • Prior vaccine reaction
  • History of seizures
  • Family history of autoimmune diseases
  • Child has an autoimmune disease
  • Genetic testing that indicates that there is evidence that this child will suffer a vaccine reaction or autoimmune disease post vaccination.
  • Allergy to one or more of the components in the vaccine.
  • Temporary exemption because the child needs more vaccines than can be safely given in one visit.

Doctors cannot give a medical exemption because a parent believes that vaccines are generally unsafe and might harm their child.

For those children who still qualify for a PBE, make sure that your child has one filed with the school no later than December 31, 2015 for the upcoming 2016-2017 school year. It’s valid until your child enters a new grade span. A medical exemption is not needed for children who still qualify for a PBE this fall and will not be needed until they enter the next grade span.

You may complete the PBE form, have it signed by your doctor, and retain a date-stamped copy from the school for your records. Download the form online at

Parents do not have to submit the PBE form if they are not comfortable with the language. Parents can write their own letter, according to SB277 Public health: vaccinations per SEC. 2. 120335. (b) (11) (g) (1) :

“A pupil who, prior to January 1, 2016, submitted a letter or affidavit on file at a private or public elementary or secondary school, child day care center, day nursery, nursery school, family day care home, or development center stating beliefs opposed to immunization shall be allowed enrollment to any private or public elementary or secondary school, child day care center, day nursery, nursery school, family day care home, or development center within the state until the pupil enrolls in the next grade span.”

By law, your school must accept your PBE or “Letter of Affidavit” through the end of 2015. These will remain valid until a pupil reaches the next grade span.

Families can also opt out of having their child’s private health information shared on the California Immunization Registry (CAIR). You must file the CAIR opt out form every year. Download the form online at

The SB277 mandatory vaccine law does not apply to:

  • Students in home-based private schools
  • Students enrolled in an independent study program who do not receive classroom-based instruction.
  • Access to special education and related services specified in an IEP (Individualized Education Program) cannot be denied. ​​

Online scheduling

Spring Allergies? Nettles the Perfect Antidote!

NettlesSpring is a time of great abundance for the nettles plant. The fresh green shoots can be found in most of our local forests, making them a wonderful medicine for foraging. You can steam the leaves or make a tasty soup (see below) but BE CAREFUL! Picking them with gloves is wise as the underside of the leaves does sting.
Nettles are rich in chlorophyll, indoles, Vitamins C and A, and many minerals. Nettles have long historical use as a diuretic, astringent, tonic and are very nutritive. They are also a wonderful treatment for asthma. For those suffering from spring allergies, they can provide great relief.
The dosing for taking nettles depends on the form and the strength, and generally they are very safe – you’re not likely to experience side effects. Tinctures should be taken 30 drops 3-4 times/day, or teas 1 cup (steep it covered) 3-4 times/day. There are also companies that make capsules of the free-dried herb that also work well, if that is easiest for you. Take 1 capsule 3-4 times/day.

Simply Recipes’ Nettle Soup

Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 45 minutes
Yield: Serves 4.

Fresh, raw stinging nettles sting! Wear protective gloves when handling them, until after they are blanched.


1/2 large shopping bag of fresh nettle tops
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp butter
1/2 cup chopped shallots
1/2 cup chopped celery
1 lb. of yukon gold or russet potatoes, peeled and chopped
4 cups chicken or veggie stock
1 to 2 cups of water
1 bay leaf
1 tsp dried thyme (or a couple sprigs of fresh thyme)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 Tbsp lemon juice
2 to 3 Tbsp of heavy whipping cream or dairy alternative

  1. Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Prepare a large bowl of ice water. Wearing protective gloves, transfer the nettle tops into the boiling water. Blanch for 2 minutes. Use tongs to transfer to the bowl of ice water to shock them. Strain in a colander. Cut away and discard any large stems from the nettles. (This should be easier to do now that the nettle stingers have lost their sting due to the blanching.)
  2. In a 6 qt soup pot, heat the olive oil and butter on medium heat. Add the chopped shallots and celery and cook until softened, about 5 minutes.
  3. Add the chopped potatoes, the chicken stock, bay leaf, and thyme. Bring to a simmer and simmer for 5 minutes.
  4. Roughly chop the blanched nettles. Add 3 to 4 cups of the chopped blanched nettles to the pot. Add enough water to just cover the nettles and potatoes, 1 to 2 cups. Return to a simmer and simmer for 15 minutes or until the potatoes are soft and the nettles tender.
  5. Remove the bay leaves (and thyme sprigs if using) from the pot. Using an immersion blender or working in batches with a standing blender, purée. Return to the pot and take off the heat.
  6. Add salt to taste. Add 1/2 tsp of freshly ground black pepper. Add lemon juice. Right before serving, swirl in the cream. Adjust seasonings to taste.

Read more:

Medicinal Mushroom Update


 Coriolus versicolor: Cancer Miracle Mushroom

The scientific evidence for this mushroom is powerful. If you have cancer, really of any type, you want to take Coriolus versicolor (Turkey Tail Mushroom. (It is also called Trametes versicolor, but in most of the research and manufacturing it is referred to as Coriolus versicolor.) There is too much research on this medicinal mushroom to cover it thoroughly in this update, so I will focus on some of the most recent, as well as the most compelling. The benefits are well proven: improves quality of life by reducing pain, decreasing cachexia, decreasing nausea and vomiting, along with improving effectiveness of chemo and radiation.1 One of the mechanisms for this is it’s effectiveness at increasing tumor necrosis factor-α (TNF-α). And it does this without inducing fever, but instead with a drop in body temperature.1


Another study from this year reports decreased metastasis of breast cancer with an extract of Coriolus. It was shown to stimulate the immune system and slow tumor growth. It decreased tumor weight by 36% and decrease lung metastasis by 70%. It also showed a protective effect on bone, which can be damaged and lost due to breast cancers. 2

Esophageal cancer cells are also reduced by a Coriolus versicolor extract. Scientists proved in a 2012 study that a human esophageal cancer cell line (Eca109) was kept from proliferating by the extract of Coriolus versicolor.3

One of the most amazing research articles on Coriolus versicolor is actually not a single study but a meta-analysis of many research studies over many years. What this study did was sift through years and years of research and only pull out the ones that were worthy of being included. Factors for this inclusion included that it be a human study, double-blinded and placebo-controlled; basically all of the things that we consider to constitute good science. The conclusion of their analysis was that Coriolus versicolor is very effective and safe at treating cancers (including colon, breast, and lung) and not only does it not interfere with conventional treatments like chemo and radiation, it actually helps those therapies work better.4


Hericium erinaceus for MS and Mental Decline

Another of my favorite medicinal mushrooms is Hericium (Lion’s Mane). Therapeutic uses include Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, post-stroke and dementia as well as anxiety and depression.6

One recent research study reviews many articles on how different medicinal mushrooms work for brain health pointed out that “The mushrooms (either extracts from basidiocarps/mycelia or isolated compounds) reduced beta amyloid-induced neurotoxicity and had anti-acetylcholinesterase, neurite outgrowth stimulation, nerve growth factor (NGF) synthesis, neuroprotective, antioxidant, and anti-(neuro)inflammatory effects.”5

One reason that it has shown benefit in Parkinson’s and Multiple sclerosis is that it has a protective effect on the myelin sheath – the outer coating of the axon of the nerve cell. The myelin sheath protects, coats and feeds the nerve cell, and damage to this creates some of the symptoms of neuro-degenerative diseases. A piece of research from 2003 showed that the extract of Hericium helped improve the health of these cells, and no toxic or damaging effect was found.6 This study was in vitro, and certainly more human studies are warranted.


Piwep from Phellinus igniarius and Multiple Sclerosis

This year some very exciting research showed than a medicinal mushroom extract called Piwep, which comes from Phellinus igniarius, can slow the damage to nerve cells caused by multiple sclerosis, in a mechanism believed to be related to it’s effect on the immune system. In an animal model, the mushroom extract showed suppression of demyelination in the disease that had been induced. It also inhibited migration of lymphocytes and interferon-γ to the site, decreasing inflammatory response. The extract was made using the fruiting bodies of the mushroom, using a process of hot water and ethanol extraction. Thus the name Piwep (Phellinus igniarius water-ethanol precipitate).7 More human research is certainly needed for this disease for which there is no known cause or effective current treatment.


Chaga Mushroom (Inonotus obliquus) Shows Promise in Herpes and Cancer

Several new studies this year show that Chaga mushroom has benefit in Herpes Simplex (HSV). No viral cells were detected in the group treated with the Chaga mushroom extract.12 In another study the extract of Chaga proved to inhibit viral membrane fusion, providing a new treatment option to usual nucleoside analog anti-herpetics.13

Anti-cancer benefits of the fruiting bodies of Inonotus were also shown in a research article from this year. This mushroom, commonly used in Russia, Poland and other Baltic areas, has extensive traditional use for various ailments such as stomach issues, cleansing and disinfecting, and cancer. The research shows the extract effective in decreasing tumor cell proliferation. The authors also note the very low toxicity to normal cells when the mushroom extract was applied.14


Amazing, Health Promoting Reishi Mushroom – Ganoderma lucidum

If nothing is wrong with you, is there a mushroom that you should take every day? Absolutely! Reishi is one mushroom with a tremendous amount of research behind it, for a plethora of issues. Reishi, like most mushrooms, is an excellent immune system booster. It is also very good at fighting a variety of cancers. Reishi is known as the mushroom of longevity, taken for centuries by Chinese royalty because of its powers of extending life.

Beyond treating cancer, this mushroom is effective for hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, and hepatitis – all while being amazingly safe. It has also been found to work well at treating skin wounds. 8

One of the major reasons that breast cancer remains so dangerous and has such a high mortality rate is its ability to metastasize quickly to nearby tissues, including lymph nodes and lungs. Recent research shows that Ganoderma lucidum helps to prevent metastasis to the lungs. In this study, the tumor size was decreased slightly, but the metastasis to the lungs was strongly inhibited. The mechanism for this inhibition is thought to be inhibition of pro-invasive genes.9

Other reported benefits from Ganoderma lucidum include: inhibiting histamine release, inducing apoptosis, inhibiting viral infections, antioxidant, CNS sedation, anti-microbial and immune modulation.

Best Form for Medicinal Effects

There is a good deal of controversy about what form is best for medicinal mushrooms. The greatest body of evidence points towards using hot water extractions. All mushrooms have a cell wall made of chitin. Our bodies cannot break this down to extract the potent medicine inside. So eating mushrooms, while a good source of fiber and other nutrients, will not provide you much medicinal benefit. The vast majority of the research on Coriolus showing it’s powerful anti-cancer benefit has been done on a hot water extract of the mushroom. There are companies who make a hot water extract that is then dehydrated and encapsulated, making it very simple to get very high doses of the mushroom desired. The only downside of this, particularly in mushrooms that need to be taken several times/day at high doses for maximum benefit, is the cost. But compared to most conventional cancer and MS therapies, it is still a fraction of what prescription medications cost.

There are scientists and purveyors of mycelium extracts who argue that mycelium is much more sustainable and just as efficacious. There are some good studies going on currently, but as of yet there is limited research the medical literature to confirm this. One recent study on Hericium did utilize mycelium extract and showed benefit.10

Another study on Chaga showed greater anti-oxidant activity with the fruiting bodies compared to the mycelium.11


1 Jedrzejewski T1, Piotrowski J2, Wrotek S3, Kozak W4. Polysaccharide peptide induces a tumor necrosis factor-α-dependent drop of body temperature in rats. J Therm Biol. 2014 Aug;44:1-4. doi: 10.1016/j.jtherbio.2014.06.003. Epub 2014 Jun 12.

2 Luo KW1et al. In vivo and in vitro anti-tumor and anti-metastasis effects of Coriolus versicolor aqueous extract on mouse mammary 4T1 carcinoma. Phytomedicine. 2014 Jul-Aug;21(8-9):1078-87. doi: 10.1016/j.phymed.2014.04.020. Epub 2014 May 22.

3 Wang DF1, Lou N, Li XD. Effect of coriolus versicolor polysaccharide-B on the biological characteristics of human esophageal carcinoma cell line eca109. Cancer Biol Med. 2012 Sep;9(3):164-7. doi: 10.7497/j.issn.2095-3941.2012.03.002.

4 Eliza WL1, Fai CK, Chung LP. Efficacy of Yun Zhi (Coriolus versicolor) on survival in cancer patients: systematic review and meta-analysis. Recent Pat Inflamm Allergy Drug Discov. 2012 Jan;6(1):78-87.

5 Phan CW1, David P, Naidu M, Wong KH, Sabaratnam V. Therapeutic potential of culinary-medicinal mushrooms for the management of neurodegenerative diseases: diversity, metabolite, and mechanism. Crit Rev Biotechnol. 2014 Mar 24. [Epub ahead of print]

6 Kolotushkina EV1, Moldavan MG, Voronin KY, Skibo GG. The influence of Hericium erinaceus extract on myelination process in vitro. Fiziol Zh. 2003;49(1):38-45.

7 Li L1, et al. A mushroom extract Piwep from Phellinus igniarius ameliorates experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis by inhibiting immune cell infiltration in the spinal cord. Biomed Res Int. 2014;2014:218274. doi: 10.1155/2014/218274. Epub 2014 Jan 27.

8 Gupta A1, et al. Wound Healing Activity of an Aqueous Extract of the Lingzhi or Reishi Medicinal Mushroom Ganoderma lucidum (Higher Basidiomycetes). Int J Med Mushrooms. 2014;16(4):345-54.

9 Loganathan J1 et al. The mushroom Ganoderma lucidum suppresses breast-to-lung cancer metastasis through the inhibition of pro-invasive genes. Int J Oncol. 2014 Jun;44(6):2009-15. doi: 10.3892/ijo.2014.2375. Epub 2014 Apr 9.

10 Lee KF1, Protective effects of Hericium erinaceus mycelium and its isolated erinacine A against ischemia-injury-induced neuronal cell death via the inhibition of iNOS/p38 MAPK and nitrotyrosine. Int J Mol Sci. 2014 Aug 27;15(9):15073-89. doi: 10.3390/ijms150915073.

11 Lin SY1, Preparation of Chaga medicinal mushroom, Inonotus obliquus-fermented rice using solid-state fermentation and its taste quality and antioxidant property. Int J Med Mushrooms. 2012;14(6):581-92.

12 Polkovnikova MV, et al. [A study of the antiherpetic activity of the chaga mushroom (Inonotus obliquus) extracts in the Vero cells infected with the herpes simplex virus].Vopr Virusol. 2014 Mar-Apr;59(2):45-8.

13 Pan HH1 et al. Aqueous extract from a Chaga medicinal mushroom, Inonotus obliquus (higher Basidiomycetes), prevents herpes simplex virus entry through inhibition of viral-induced membrane fusion. Int J Med Mushrooms. 2013;15(1):29-38.

14 Lemieszek MK1 et al. Anticancer effects of fraction isolated from fruiting bodies of Chaga medicinal mushroom, Inonotus obliquus (Pers.:Fr.) Pilát (Aphyllophoromycetideae): in vitro studies. Int J Med Mushrooms. 2011;13(2):131-43.

How “super” is your superfood?


(Hint: If you’re not taking spirulina, you might be missing out!)

So-called superfoods have garnered a good deal of attention over the years, but it seems that they all come and go. Green drinks are fairly popular now, generally a combination of fruits and vegetables and sometimes fillers like fiber. Often spirulina and/or chlorella are added as one of many nutrients. But Spirulina could easily stand on its own for your green drink of the day. Or at the very least be added to your smoothies, or even taken as a tablet if that is your preference.


Spirulina (Arthrospira platensis), a blue-green algae, is one of the oldest organisms on the earth. It does not have cellulose cell walls, which makes it much easier for our bodies to digest. It also does not contain a nucleus.

The taste? Ok – it’s slightly oceanic. Truth be told, it doesn’t have much of a taste, but the aroma might remind you a little of a walk on the beach. But the health benefits? Truly amazing.

First of all, it has one of the highest sources of complete protein – higher even than eggs when compared by weight. And it is a complete protein – somewhat rare for a vegan source. A complete protein contains all of the necessary amino acids to be used as building blocks by your body.

Fighting Cancer

Spirulina has the highest amount of carotenoids of any food – even compared to our colorful fruits and veggies. I love vegetables, but doubt that many days go buy where I get the recommended 5-9 servings. In just one teaspoon of spirulina, you can get more carotenoids than in one medium carrot, and more antioxidant and anti-inflammatory nutrients than you would if you ate 5 servings of vegetables.

In the research of dietary prevention of cancers, carotenoids are the most beneficial component of fruits and vegetables. Not only do they help prevent growth of tumors, they can also change the cell signaling so that the cancer tumors, which normally grow ungoverned, may be stopped by your body’s natural mechanisms to halt cell growth.

The research on carotenoids is mostly on dietary carotenoids, rather than synthetic. Research suggests that our bodies can absorb and utilize natural food-state carotenoids much more readily. Spirulina contains all natural food carotenoids, in great abundance.

Beta-carotene is one of the major carotenoids found in spirulina, and one that much of the cancer-fighting research has been done on. Most people only get 25% of the cancer-research recommended amount of beta-carotene, even though it is found in many foods such as spinach, papaya, broccoli and squash. Beta-carotene, unlike vitamin A, does not have any risk of toxicity, since your body will only convert what it needs to active vitamin A.


Phycocyanins are one component of spirulina that are truly unique. They are what give the spirulina the bluish tint (cyan=blue). Phycocyanin is one of the most powerful antioxidants ever identified, being a potent free-radical scavenger, even showing promise in cancer treatments. It stimulates the immune system and shifts it towards Th1 immunity, which can be very beneficial in people with allergic rhinitis. It also reduces the amount of histamine released from cells.

While it also acts as a Cox-2 inhibitor to decrease inflammation, it also protects the liver, unlike prescription Cox-2 inhibitors.

As I focus a great deal in my practice on detoxification, Spirulina is a perfect fit for anyone working on detoxifying. Scientists in Japan found that phycocyanin aids the liver and kidneys during detoxification, and can also be helpful at removing heavy metals from the body. One human clinical study showed Spirulina to increase interferon production and NK cytotoxicity, which helps the body rid itself of cancerous cells. (Hirahashi et al 2002)

Compared to chlorella in liver disease cells, the spirulina performed better, largely thought due to the phycocyanins, which chlorella does not contain. While both were beneficial, the Spirulina extract was five times stronger than the chlorella at inhibiting growth of liver cancer cells. (Wu et all 2005)


Spirulina is one of natures most abundant sources of this powerful antioxidant, which has it’s own set of unique characteristics. For one thing, unlike most antioxidants, zeaxanthin does not ever become a pro-oxidant (a feature it shares only with astaxanthin). Most other antioxidants can become a pro-oxidant, or cause oxidative damage in the body, if there are not enough other supporting antioxidants nearby.

Zeaxanthin has been shown to cross the blood brain barrier, having impact on brain health, as well as having powerful activity in the eyes. Recent studies show that zeaxanthin improves age-related macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness in Americans. (Huang 2014) Along with lutein, zeaxanthin is found in both the macula and the lens of the eye – working there not just as an antioxidant but also filtering blue light. Zeaxanthin also protects skin that has been exposed excessively to the sun. People with the highest xanthophyll intake, such as zeaxanthin, have the lowest rates of cataracts and macular degeneration. They may also reduce incidence of cancers of the breast and lung, as well as heart disease and stroke. (Ribaya-Mercado 2004)

Dark leafy greens and egg yolks are high in zeaxanthin, but just 3 gram of spirulina has more than a large bowl of spinach. I’m certainly not saying don’t eat the spinach, but adding Spirulina may be helpful to keep the levels of important antioxidants up.


Allergic rhinitis causes misery for millions of Americans. Scientists have found that Spirulina reduces cytokine production in people with allergic rhinitis, and in doing so, offers them some much-needed relief. Allergic rhinitis tends to be IgE related (our over-amped reaction to pollen or cats) and in this placebo-controlled, double-blind trial, Spirulina reduced levels of the cytokine IL-4, blunting the histamine reaction to the IgE antibodies. (Mao 2005)

Other research shows reduction in symptoms in allergy sufferers. Daily Spirulina intake reduced symptoms of nasal discharge, sneezing, nasal congestion and itching. (Cingi 2008)

Immune Boosting

Spirulina has several mechanisms for improving immune function. It activates the innate immune system, increasing NK activity and interferon production. (Hirahashi 2002)

One study in senior citizens shows improved blood counts as well as a decrease in immunosenescence (decreased immune function of elderly). (Selmi 2011)

Spirulina has also been shown to improve resistance to bacterial and fungal infections, and improve the beneficial intestinal flora, while reducing growth of candida albicans. (Blinkova 2001)

Heart Health

Oxidative stress causes tissue remodeling and can result in atrial fibrillation and congestive heart failure. Scientists are now seeing the relationship between nitric oxide as well as superoxide dismutase in heart issues, and are recognizing that a range of full-spectrum antioxidant therapy, such as in Spirulina, may help reverse the remodeling. There are large amounts of phycocyanobilin in Spirulina, which researchers have shown mimics the inhibitory impact of biliverdin and bilirubin on NADPH oxidase activity, thereby increasing cellular energy available and quenching free-radical activity. (McCarty 2014)

Phycocyanins have also been shown to reduce arterial plaque, and with Spirulina’s overall ability to lower cholesterol this is a very important nutrient for people with heart disease. (Strasky 2013)

The Great, Green Beauty Mask

In a world where we are constantly lathering our skin with toxins including phthalates and petrochemicals, here is one natural treatment that will help your skin defy age-related wrinkles, as well as sun damage.

Make a strong pot of green tea (ideally not from China due to lead – see prior blogs) and mix w/ Spirulina powder and a little bit of coconut oil. Make it the consistency of frosting. Let cool to just warm and apply to face and neck. Both have been shown to reduce fine lines and wrinkles and combat precancerous skin conditions like actinic keratosis. Leave it on for 15-20 minutes and remove with a soft, wet cloth. Your skin will feel amazing!

The Cat Test

There are thousands of research articles on the health benefits of Spirulina. But at home what counts is the tried and true, right?

My cat is rather odd and a fairly picky eater. I know, that is not odd for a cat. But he does have a penchant for unusual foods. He loves regiano parmesano, much to his father’s delight, and disdains the domestic stuff. He has never consumed those little pre-fab cat treats that you can buy off supermarket shelves. But he loves Spirulina. Since he was very young, it has been his treat of choice. But here’s what is funny. He is picky about the type of Spirulina. It can’t have any fillers or additives – he won’t eat it. Just pure Spirulina, which can be a little harder to find. Luckily the Hawaiian stuff is clean, and not too expensive, and so good for him that I really wouldn’t care if it was. But it passes the cat test, which in our household, stands up as well as a good deal of research.


Blinkova LP, et al. Zh Mikrobiol Epidemiol Immunobiol. 2001 Mar-Apr;(2):114-8. [Biological activity of Spirulina]

  • Cingi C, et al. The effects of spirulina on allergic rhinitis. Eur Arch Otorhinolaryngol. 2008 Oct;265(10):1219-23. Epub 2008 Mar 15. PMID: 18343939
  • Huang YM1 et al. Br J Ophthalmol. 2014 Sep 16. pii: bjophthalmol-2014-305503. doi: 10.1136/bjophthalmol-2014-305503. [Epub ahead of print] Changes following supplementation with lutein and zeaxanthin in retinal function in eyes with early age-related macular degeneration: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial.
  • Hirahashi T, et al. Int Immunopharmacol. 2002 Mar;2(4):423-34.Activation of the human innate immune system by Spirulina: augmentation of interferon production and NK cytotoxicity by oral administration of hot water extract of Spirulina platensis.
  • Nagaoka S, Shimizu K, Kaneko H, Shibayama F, Morikawa K, Kanamaru Y, Otsuka A, Hirahashi T, Kato T. A novel protein C-phycocyanin plays a crucial role in the hypocholesterolemic action of Spirulina platensis concentrate in rats. J Nutr. 2005 Oct;135(10):2425-30.

Mao TK, et al. Effects of a Spirulina-based dietary supplement on cytokine production from allergic rhinitis patients. J Med Food. 2005 Spring;8(1):27-30.

McCarty MF. Practical prevention of cardiac remodeling and atrial fibrillation with full-spectrum antioxidant therapy and ancillary strategies. Med Hypotheses. 2010 Aug;75(2):141-7. doi: 10.1016/j.mehy.2009.12.025. Epub 2010 Jan 18.

Ribaya-Mercado JD1, Blumberg JB. J Am Coll Nutr. 2004 Dec;23(6 Suppl):567S-587S. Lutein and zeaxanthin and their potential roles in disease prevention.

Selmi C, et al. Cell Mol Immunol. 2011 May;8(3):248-54. Epub 2011 Jan 31.
The effects of Spirulina on anemia and immune function in senior citizens.

Strasky Z1, Spirulina platensis and phycocyanobilin activate atheroprotective heme oxygenase-1: a possible implication for atherogenesis. Food Funct. 2013 Nov;4(11):1586-94. doi: 10.1039/c3fo60230c.

Wu LC, Ho JA, Shieh MC, Lu IW. Antioxidant and antiproliferative activities of Spirulina and Chlorella water extracts. J Agric Food Chem. 2005 May 18;53(10):4207-12. PMID:15884862

Digesting the New Diets



Would I be dating myself if I said “Pritikin”? I’m sure everyone is familiar with Atkins. Then came the more reasonable Mediterranean. Paleo is a more recent trend. My pet peeve about the paleo diet is now people say “carbs” when they mean refined carbs like bread and pasta and donuts. “Carbs” also include very healthy foods like vegetables and fruits, and even whole grains.

But just as soon as most people know the ins and outs of the most recent health craze, more seem to pop up. Some with lots of good theory and even science behind them. Others…not so much. So what about FODMAPS and GAPS and SCD? Which foods contain salicylates and oxalates? I will attempt to bring some concise clarification of these myriad food plans.


The Specific Carbohydrate Diet

Developed Dr. Sidney Valentine Haas and expounded upon by cell biologist Elaine Gottschall after her daughter was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, culminating in a book in 1994 called Breaking the Vicious Cycle. The diet and it’s premise has more recently come into favor by patients and parents trying to treat various gastrointestinal diseases such as irritable bowel disease, Crohn’s, ulcerative colitis, and also autism and spectrum disorders.


The premise is that the diet, a very strict change in foods consumed, starves the anaerobic bacteria in the GI tract, restoring the beneficial bacterial balance and thus gut function, without drugs and surgery.


The details of the diet are quite complex, and if you decide to try it, there are many resources online. But the basics are to completely avoid grains, lactose, and sucrose. Some examples of foods (by no means complete!):

Legal: dry curd cottage cheese, homemade yogurt, eggs, homemade gelatin or unflavored gelatin, chicken soup, beef patty, fish, figs, filberts, cantaloupe, cheese (as long as it has had a bacterial culture in it’s creation, is not processed, and aged at least 30 days)

Illegal: wheat flour, amaranth flour, feta cheese, flour, cannellini beans, chewing gum, chevre, seed butters and seed flours, soy.


There are several phases to this diet, additional foods allowed during subsequent phases, as symptoms are resolving.



GAPS stands for Gut and Psychology Syndrome.

The GAPS diet has its roots in the SCD diet, and was developed by Natasha Campbell-McBride, MD wrote the book Gut and Psychology Syndrome: Natural treatments for autism, ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia, depression, and schizophrenia. She makes the connection between the digestive system and the brain, based on her extensive training in both neurology and human nutrition. I appreciate that her focus is on whole foods, persisting that if people have processed and many canned foods, they are getting much less nutrition than they could if they ate the food in it’s most whole form. This means avoiding foods with barcodes or chemicals that you can’t pronounce or understand.

“The best foods are eggs (if tolerated), fresh meats (not preserved), fish, shellfish, fresh vegetables and fruit, nuts and seeds, garlic and olive oil.  Apart from eating vegetables cooked, it is important to have some raw vegetables with meals, as they contain vital enzymes to assist digestion of the meats.  Fruit should be eaten on their own, not with meals, as they have a very different digestion pattern and can make the work harder for the stomach.  Fruit should be given as a snack between meals.”

She also recommends healthy fats such as ghee and olive oil, as well as fermented foods to restore gut probiotic balance.

There are lists of foods to have and avoid on the website, but it insists that to be truly successful you must buy the book (which I have not yet done, so can’t speak to it’s indispensability).




FODMAP stands for Fermentable Oligo-Di-Monosaccharides and Polyols


Developed at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia by Peter Gibson and Susan Shepherd to treat digestive disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and other functional gastrointestinal disorders (FGID). The theory is that the FODMAPs culprits are carbohydrates and related alcohols that are poorly absorbed in the small intestine. These are very common in the western diet. When one consumes a FODMAP that is not absorbed in the small intestine, it moves to the large intestine where it is fermented by bacteria, producing excessive gas and bloating, and IBS in some patients. Fructose malabsorption and lactose intolerance may cause the same symptoms, and are easily tested for via a hydrogen and methane breath tests.

What are FODMAPs in the diet (foods to avoid)?

  • Fructose (fruits, honey, high fructose corn syrup) High FODMAPs fruits are apples, apricots, blackberries, cherries, mango, grapefruit
  • Lactose (dairy) Especially buttermilk, ice cream, cream, yogurt and milk
  • Fructans (wheat, garlic, onion, inulin)
  • Galactans (legumes such as beans, lentils, soybeans)
  • Polyols (sweeteners containing isomalt, mannitol, sorbitol, xylitol, stone fruits such as avocado, apricots, cherries, nectarines, peaches, plums)


Foods allowed:

  • Vegetables: bamboo shoots, pepper, lettuce, leafy greens potatoes, squash, celery, corn, cucumbers
  • Fruits: bananas, berries, cantaloupe, orange, passion fruit, pineapple, rhubarb, tangerine, grapes, grapefruit, honeydew, kiwi
  • Protein: beef, chicken, canned tuna, fish, eggs, lamb, nuts, nut butters, seeds
  • Dairy (and diary alternatives): small amounts of cream and cream cheese, hard cheese (cheddar, Colby, parmesan, swiss), mozzarella, sherbet, almond milk, rice milk
  • Grains: Wheat/gluten-free grains and flours, GF bagels, hot/cold cereals (corn flakes, cream of rice, grits, oats)
  • Beverages: water, coffee, tea (some people do better if caffeine is limited), and low FODMAP fruit/vegetable juices (only ½ cup/serving)

As with the SCD diet, there are massive resources and food lists online if you want to try it out. Although there is less information about different phases or time frame expected to see results. Most websites list artificial sweeteners as legal to have on this diet, which I would disagree with, if not for the benefit of improved gut health, certainly for general health and optimal weight.




Oxalates are found in many foods and are always in our bodies. Our cells frequently convert substances into oxalates. There is some controversy in the healthcare industry about whether or not limiting dietary oxalates can decrease calcium oxalate kidney stones (about 80% of all kidney stones are made of calcium oxalates). There are three very rare health conditions that require strict adherence to a low-oxalate diet, such as absorptive hypercalciuria type II, enteric hyperoxaluria, and primary hyperoxaluria.

Foods high in oxalates:

  • Fruits: blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, currants, kiwifruit, concord (purple) grapes, figs, tangerines, and plums
  • Vegetables: spinach, Swiss chard, beets (root part), beet greens (leaf part), collards, okra, parsley, leeks and quinoa are among the most oxalate-dense vegetables (celery, green beans, rutabagas, and summer squash would be considered moderately dense in oxalates)
  • Nuts and seeds: almonds, cashews, and peanuts
  • Legumes: soybeans, tofu and other soy products
  • Grains: wheat bran, wheat germ, quinoa (a vegetable often used like a grain)
  • Other: cocoa, chocolate, and black tea

This information is from one of my all-time favorite websites for excellent nutrition information – World’s Healthiest Foods (


Salicylates, or commonly salicylic acid, are found naturally in many plants, protecting the plant from disease and fungal infection. There are natural and synthetic salicylates added to foods, medicines and fragrances as a preservative. People with a salicylate sensitivity or intolerance will have myriad reactions from ingesting even a small amount of food with salicylic acid. There is no laboratory test for salicylate sensitivity, so it is recommended to an elimination diet and then food introduction. Common symptoms of salicylate sensitivity are:

  • Stomach pain/gastrointestinal issues
  • Tinnitus
  • Itchy skin, hives or rashes
  • Asthma
  • Angioedema
  • Headaches
  • Swelling of hands, feet, eyelids, lips
  • Bed wetting or urgency to pass water
  • Persistent cough
  • Changes in skin/discoloration
  • Fatigue
  • Sore, itchy, puffy, burning eyes
  • Sinusitis/nasal polyps
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Hyperactivity
  • Memory loss and poor concentration
  • Depression


Since salicylic acid occurs natural in foods, there are massive lists to review to see what is highest. I will include here just a few examples and a good link for your review.

  • Fruits – high: all dried fruits, avocado, apricots
  • Fruits – low: banana, pear (ripe and peeled)
  • Vegetables – high: canned green olives, peppers, tomato, radish
  • Vegetables – low: bamboo shoots, cabbage, celery, iceberg lettuce
  • Nuts and seeds – high: almond, peanuts, water chestnut
  • Nuts and seeds – low: poppy seed, cashes, sunflower seeds
  • Sweets – high: chewing gum, fruit flavors, jam, mint flavored sweets
  • Sweets – low: carob, cocoa, maple syrup, white sugar
  • Grains – high: cornmeal, polenta, maize
  • Grains – low: barley/buckwheat, millet, oats, rice, rye, wheat
  • Meat – high: processed lunch meats, seasoned meats (salami, sausage)
  • Meat – low: beef, chicken eggs, fish, lamb, organ meats, scallops



It can be quite overwhelming and confusing to sort everything out and figure out what is causing one’s symptoms, and what is most likely to help them recover optimal health. When looking at these food lists, even some very healthy foods can be causing some serious health issues. If you feel daunted and unsure of what would be best for you, I recommend finding a licensed naturopathic doctor or nutritionist in your area to help you figure out which diet is best for you.







Sun Protection Updated


Summer is officially here. That means that most of us are in the sun much more frequently. Most vacations and general summer fun occurs outdoors – either hiking, biking, swimming or playing tennis. Even just the walk around the neighborhood or gardening can give us hours of sun exposure.

There is much evidence that sun exposure, particularly sunburns, can lead to skin cancer, which accounts for 40% of all cancers. Melanoma, the most dangerous form, is one of the leading causes of cancer deaths.

Avoiding burns, and sun exposure in general, which can also cause wrinkles and sun damaged skin, is another conundrum.


Unsafe Skin Protection
Oxybenzone, the leading active ingredient in most popular sunscreens, can be dangerous in and of itself. The non-profit Environmental Working Group offshoot site Cosmetics Database gives sunscreens with oxybenzone a very poor rating. The reason for this is that when exposed to sunlight, oxybenzone can break down into byproducts that are actually carcinogenic. There is evidence for possible reproductive danger as well. Researchers recommend that this be avoided in children. 3

Avobenzone, another popular active ingredient, breaks down in sunlight and causes allergic reactions as well as possible hormone disruption. Health researchers are calling for more research into the bioaccumulation affect of these products on humans as well as wildlife. 5
The Cosmetics Database guide to sunscreens ( also points out that rates of melanoma have tripled in the past 35 years, and there is no evidence that sunscreen has done anything to reverse that trend. While the sunscreen industry is booming, the evidence that their products will prevent cancer has been lacking. The FDA, National Cancer Institute and International Agency for Research on Cancer agree that the data do not support the assertion that sunscreens alone prevent skin cancer. (The proven major risk factors for melanoma are fair skin, indoor tanning, number of moles on the skin, freckles, family history, UV exposure and severe sunburns.) 2

Impactful tidbits from the Cosmetics Database article I found interesting:
• Sunscreen increased rates of melanoma (Gorham 2007)
• Outdoor workers have lower rates of melanoma than indoor workers
• Increased Vitamin D (which we get from the sun) may reduce skin cancer risk

One fear that many health providers share is that people using sunscreen believe that they are protecting themselves from cancer, and therefore may spend more time in the sun, soaking up those UV rays. One study showed that while the sunscreens studied did prevent burns and photoaging, they actually increased growth of melanoma. 6
Retinal Palmitate, now found in many popular sunscreens, has it’s own problematic effects. In some FDA sponsored studies it has been shown to increase skin cancer.
PABA, another common ingredient in sunscreen, may also cause damage to the skin. Researchers found that application of normal amounts of PABA can damage melanocytes in the skin, the cells that are responsible for tanning and our natural defense against sun damage. 4

So why would we lather our bodies with products that could cause cancer when exposed to sunlight? Well, the truth is that most people are not aware of much of what they rub into their skin. Or they think that we don’t absorb them into our bodies. This is just appalling to me, considering that many drugs are delivered through the skin – such as hormone patches or nicotine patches. Along with the problematic sun protection ingredient, many contain other chemicals such as phthalates (which can be hormone disruptors) and petrochemicals as part of the vehicle for the lotion. Two free apps that I use when shopping for sunscreens and any other body care products are Think Dirty and the Cosmetics Database. You can scan the barcode of the product and get an instant rating while you shop – without having to have a degree in chemistry!

FDA logjam of new sunscreen chemicals
Recently an article in the San Francisco Chronicle pointed out that our European and Canadian counterparts have many more choices in sunscreen products, yet the FDA has them in a log-jam here, with 8 new chemicals pending review for years or over a decade before a decision is made on their safety. One that has great promise for protecting both UVA and UVB rays, is ecamsule (also referred to as Mexoryl), thought by some health experts to be better than anything we have available so far in this country. 1

Myself along with many of my colleagues recommend physical blockers, such as zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, rather than the chemical ones. The downside is that they are not as sweat- or waterproof, and therefore need to be reapplied more frequently. Protecting your skin with hats and clothing is also effective and should particularly be used with children, who are much more at risk for developing cancer if they are burned in the sun.

Is protection possible from internal ingestion of a fern extract?
Native peoples of Honduras and Guatemala have been using the extract of the fern plant Polypodium leucotomos for centuries. Scientists have found that this extract protects skin from oxidative damage, sunburn, photoaging and prevents tumors from beginning to grow in relation to UV exposure. On research study in healthy human volunteers showed that it prevented UV damage, UV related reddening of the skin, and offered photoprotection of the Langerhans cells. 7

Research has shown that this extract apparently bolsters our skin’s natural defenses against more rapid aging caused by UV rays. It prevents the rays of the sun from breaking down photoprotective molecules. 8

According to Michael Downey in a recent issue of Life Extension magazine, the extract “not only prevents, but also repairs, the sun’s damaging effects on the skin. It prevents sunaged skin by directly inhibiting MMP (matrix metalloproteinase) expression, preventing the breakdown of collagen in the first place. It repairs sun-aged skin by stimulating new production of collagen and elastin – healing and regenerating photoaged skin after exposure to ultraviolet radiation.” 11 (Life Extension is one of the manufacturers of the product. That said, the research in the article is well documented.)

This idea of protecting out skin from the inside out is appealing to me as a naturopathic doctor. Whenever people come in for help with skin issues, applying some treatment to the outside is nothing more than a Band-Aid to me. Collagen damage can’t just occur on the surface. I love the idea of protecting our cells from the inside. The mechanism of this effect on many cells in the body has been, and continues to be, well researched. 9 Not only for the prevention and treatment of sun-induced skin damage, but also promising scientific evidence for treatment of melasma and vitiligo. 10

Final thoughts
My ongoing conversation with my very pale dermatologist includes the fact that my perspective on my body is that I have it while here to use and enjoy. This includes my heart, lungs, eyes and yes, my skin. I don’t want to give any organ unnecessary burden, but if I have to stay inside and avoid having any fun in the sun, then it is just not worth it to me. Just like I will not cut down on increasing my heart rate or allowing my liver some toxins to eliminate, I will not give up my tennis matches or hikes with good friends. I will however be as wise as possible, by using safe and effective skin protection strategies.


1. Colliver, V. May 27, 2014. Fresh sunscreen ingredients stuck in FDA backlog. San Francisco Chronicle.
2. Skin cancer on the rise. Environmental Working Group EWG 2014 Guide to Sunscreens.
3. Gilaberte Y. Sun protection in children: realities and challenges. Actas Dermosifiliogr. 2014 Apr;105(3):253-62. doi: 10.1016/j.adengl.2013.05.006. Epub 2014 Mar 21.
4. Xu C et al. Photosensitzation of the sunscreen octyl p-dimethylaminobenzoate by UVA in human melanozytes but not in keratinocytes. Photochem Photobiol. 2001 Jun;73(6):600-4.
5. Schlumf M et al. In vitro and in vivo estrogenicity of UV screens. Environ Health Perspect. 2001 Mar;109(3):239-44.
6. Wolf P et al. Effect of sunscreens and UV radiation-induced enhancement of melanoma growth in mice. J Natl Cancer Inst. 1994 Jan 19;86(2):99-105.
7. Gonzalez S et al. Topical or oral administration with an extract of Polypodium leucotomos prevents acute sunburn and psoralen-induced phototoxic reactions as well as depletion of Langerhans cells in human skin. Photodermatol Photoimmunol Photomed. 1997 Feb-Apr;13(1-2):50-60.
8. Gonzalez S et al. Fernblock, a nutriceutical with photoprotective properties and potential preventive agent for skin photoaging and photoinduced skin cancers. Int J Mol Sci. 2011;12(12):8466-75. doi: 10.3390/ijms12128466. Epub 2011 Nov 29.
9. Rodriguez-Yanes E et al. Oral administration of polypodium leucotomos delays skin tumour development and increases epidermal p53 expression and the antioxidant status of UV-irradiated hairless mice. Exp Dermatol. 2014 May 24. doi: 10.1111/exd.12454. [Epub ahead of print]
10. Ahmed AM et al. A randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled trial of oral Polypodium leucotomos extract as an adjunct to sunscreen in the treatment of melasma. JAMA Dermatol. 2013 Aug;149(8):981-3. doi: 10.1001/jamadermatol.2013.4294.
11. Downey M. Protect Against Sun-Induced Skin Aging from the Inside Out. Life Extension. July 2014.

Are there Toxins in my tea?


Tea is the most widely consumed beverage worldwide, second to water. The incredible health benefits of green tea are not news to most people. Green tea benefits your health as an antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, anticarcinogenic, antihypertensive, brain protector as well as lowers cholesterol.

Some of the downsides may be less well known. We will begin here with a review of some of the most well studied benefits of green tea.


EGCG (Epigallocatechin gallate) & Cancer

In the last decade, there has been a good deal of research showing the anti-cancer properties of green tea and it’s main constituent, epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), showing positive results in epidemiological, cell culture, animal and human studies in various types of cancer.


Cell culture studies, including those on the polyphenols in green tea, show that tea polyphenols increase apoptosis (programmed cell death) and arrest cell proliferation in tumor cells but not in normal, healthy cells.1 Animal studies also show that treatment with green tea can decrease cancerous tumors in skin, colon, liver, mammary glands and stomach.


Breast Cancer therapies utilizing the catechins of green tea have been studied extensively in the past two decades. The research has varied significantly, in terms of in vivo or in vitro, carcinogens looked at, green tea catechin dose used, and whether or not it was green tea extract or a synthetic version that is higher in EGCG. The effect is not always statistically significant, but what is consistently found is the protective effect of green tea in all of the breast cancer trials. This suggests that further trials of green tea extracts should be done, particularly in high-risk women. 7


Estrogen receptor alpha cells responded better to tamoxifen in the presence of EGCG. And growth of non-malignant breast epithelial cells is not affected by EGCG. 5


Researchers studying the nanoparticles of green tea found that while they did not have the EGCG (or caffeine or theobromine) that has been studied so heavily, they did have a benefit in cancer therapy. They form a complex with doxorubicin and improve the uptake of the drug into cancer cells. This led to increased cytotoxicity of lung cancer and breast cancer cells. They also were found to have increased uptake and cytotoxicity in multi-drug resistant breast cancer cells. 6


EGCG has been shown to have very potent free-radical quenching capabilities, which is especially important in detoxification and preventing oxidative damage.


More studies are needed to determine which populations and which organ systems are likely to benefit the most from green tea consumption. But there is sufficient evidence to know at this point that it does help keep cancer at bay, and without much downside, can be assumed to be a reasonable tonic to include in your daily diet.




Theanine & Anxiety

Recent years have seen large increases in data available on the central nervous system effects of theanine. Theanine is an amino acid component of both green and black teas, although is somewhat higher in green tea. L-theanine is the form in supplements for human use. It was previously thought it should be taken as a supplement to achieve the greatest calming effect, rather than to just have a cup of green tea. Recent research shows that it crosses the blood brain barrier, increasing alpha brain waves, even with just a simple cup of green tea. Alpha waves are seen on EEG and mostly found in wakeful relaxation with eyes closed. This seems to help people focus on mental tasks. The unique quality of theanine is that it helps produce alert focus while also producing a sense of calm. Many calming herbs and pharmaceuticals also create sleepiness. Not so with theanine. Although if your anxiety is keeping you awake, theanine may help induce sleep just by reducing anxiety levels. The calming effect of theanine is related to it’s upregulation of inhibitory neurotransmitters, while also regulating dopamine and serotonin levels in the brain. 2 Other areas where theanine shows some promise include stroke recovery and schizophrenia.


Polyphenon E and Cervical Cancer

Polyphenon E is a topical ointment with a standardized amount of epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) from green tea. It has been used in several studies showing elimination of HPV related warts. 3 It has also been shown in cell cultures to reduce cervical cancer by inducing apoptosis and inhibition of telomerase activity. 4


Green Tea and Anti-Aging

Tea has been used since ancient times for it’s proposed health benefits. Now we are coming up with scientific research to help prove this and also to understand the mechanisms of action. Several new research studies have recently been published that show the benefits of green tea on effects of aging.


Polyphenolic compounds from green tea contain compounds that show strong affinity to reactive oxygen species. They show the ability to neutralize free radical damage and initiate other positive biological effects. 10


Emulsions of green tea and lotus applied to the skin are shown to reduce wrinkles, scaliness and skin roughness. Green tea and lotus were also each studied alone in this trial and were found to have synergistic effects when applied together. 8 Another meta-review of studies of botanicals for skin wrinkles showed no benefit with green tea, but also pointed out at that the study designs were not adequate. 9 More research is needed in this area.


Another review article pointed out that green tea has a beneficial effect in limiting skin cancer growth, along with reducing ultraviolet light induced photoimmunosuppresion. 12



Diabetes and Heart

Green tea has been shown to help with metabolic disorders including insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and decrease cholesterol. 11



What about the bad stuff?

If you’ve been reading so far waiting for the other shoe to drop, fear not. It isn’t so bad. At least nothing that you can’t avoid with a little education.


Look out for toxic elements!

Canadian researchers recently studied 30 different types of black, green and oolong teas found on local store shelves. They looked at both regular and organic teas. They looked at toxic elements in the tea leaves themselves, tea brewed for 3 minutes and then tea brewed for 15-17 minutes. Here is the heartbreaking news: all teas contained lead. In the teas brewed for just 3 minutes, 73% contained lead, and in the tea brewed for 15-17 minutes 83% contained lead at levels that are considered unsafe for pregnancy and lactation. There was no difference in lead levels between organic and regular teas. 13


Interestingly, while many of the tea leaves contained mercury, no mercury was found in the brewed teas. There is some binding that occurs in the tea leaves that keeps it from leeching out in to the tea.


And while choosing tea that is organic isn’t necessarily going to protect you from the elevated lead levels, purchasing tea from different countries certainly could. The study showed that all green tea from China, organic and regular, had elevated lead levels. While tea from Sri Lanka did not. Organic green tea from Japan showed moderate levels of lead, arsenic and cadmium.


Take it easy on cream and sugar!

Tea flavonoids protect cells from free radical damage. This is because tea contains high levels of antioxidants, the polyphenols we’ve talked about already. But many people are doctoring up their tea with things that completely eliminate the activity of these antioxidants. As it happens, more people do this to black tea than to green. Researchers showed that the addition of milk, sugar and honey decrease the antioxidant levels in tea in a dose-dependent manner. Addition of the natural sweetener stevia had no negative effect on the antioxidant levels, so it should be the sweetener of choice in any tea. 14



Where do we go from here?

It is clear that green tea has many beneficial qualities. Having several cups each day can provide myriad health benefits. My favorite way to have my green tea is to brew kombucha – that way I get the catechins and some probiotics all in one place. But we need to be smart to avoid any negative attributes. Educate yourself about where your tea comes from. Most of us tend to drink the same brand over and over again. Find out where it’s grown and if they do any testing to make sure it does not have toxic contaminants. If you are taking a concentrated green tea capsule for medicinal purposes, I would do the same research. Make sure that you aren’t also getting concentrated lead. Many of the best supplement companies do regular testing to make sure there are no toxins in their products. If they aren’t, I wouldn’t take it.


And for sure stay away from milk and sugar in your tea.






  1. Chen, D et al, Green tea and tea polyphenols in cancer prevention. Front Biosci. 2004 Sep 1;9:2618-31. PMID:15358585
  2. Yokoyama, M. The tea polyphenol, (-)-epigallocatechin gallate effects on growth, apoptosis, and telomerase activity in cervical cell lines. Gynecol Oncol. 2004 Jan;92(1):197-204.
  3. Garcia, FA. Et al. Results of a phase II randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of Polyphenon E in women with persistent high-risk HPV infection and low-grade cervical intraepithelial neoplasia. Gynecol Oncol. 2014 Feb;132(2):377-82. doi: 10.1016/j.ygyno.2013.12.034. Epub 2014 Jan 2.
  4. Zeng L, et al. Effects of physiological levels of green tea extract epigallocatechin-3-gallate on breast cancer cells. Front Endocrinol (Lausanne). 2014 May 7;5:61. doi: 10.3389/fendo.2014.00061. eCollection 2014.
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Willowbend Weight Loss: An Introduction

I want a weight loss program that works and that is sustainable. I want the choices to be healthy…the weight loss to be healthy…the products we are told to take or eat to be healthy.

But alas, in order for that to happen I had to make it myself. I have tried without success to follow other templates. Or I have looked into diet plans and just not been able to follow them myself or recommend for patients because I didn’t really think they were healthy.


Being overweight is an enormous problem (no pun intended) for many people. Those of us who have weight issues are more likely to suffer from myriad illness. Not to mention self-esteem issues. And we don’t want to be heavy. One of my family members has been very critical of my weight – like I just one day decided to spend 8 years gaining 20 pounds/year by choice. (I do not mean that I don’t take ownership of my choices and issues, but many overweight people do not know how to make the changes necessary, or what to count on that will really work.)

There are hundreds of opinions on the best way. This is just mine. And from being a naturopathic doctor for over 10 years, and having lost weight on this program that I have kept off (and helped others to do so as well), I believe that this is an ideal weight loss program.


I hope you are willing to take the plunge and make some changes! Your health awaits!



The cornerstones of this program are:

  • Eat healthy foods
  • Track daily food intake (there’s an app for that :’)
  • No grains
  • No sugar
  • High healthy proteins
  • Lots of vegetables
  • Fruit is allowed but limited
  • Supplements that increase health, metabolism and replace a meal
    • Intensely good Multivitamin
    • Fish Oil
    • RAW protein powder
    • Probiotic
    • Fiber
    • Daily exercise
    • Adequate sleep every night
    • Weekly check in meetings for support and accountability


We are putting finishing touches on the guidebook and pricing for the 12-week weight loss program. Stay tuned!