What is Chronic Stress?

DASH Diet Benefits For Hypertension & Weight Loss

DASH Diet Benefits For Hypertension & Weight Loss

Some of the most important health benefits of the DASH diet include its ability to lower blood pressure, aid in weight loss efforts, boost heart health, prevent certain cancers, slow the progress of osteoporosis, protect your kidneys, and help you to avoid diabetes.

The DASH Diet

There seem to be a great number of diets and fads out there that promise to deliver a wide range of health benefits, and while many of them are unproven, the DASH Diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) has drawn quite a bit of attention and popularity, as well as sponsorship from the American Heart Association and the US Guidelines for the treatment of high blood pressure. Essentially, the DASH Diet was originally conceived as a way to lower blood pressure (hypertension) but has since been recognized as being beneficial for a wide array of health concerns. The diet is based on consuming a diet that is high in fruits and vegetables, protein, nuts, beans, seeds, whole grains, and heart-healthy fats.

Initially, the diet included a number of starchy foods that were considered “empty” carbohydrates, but the diet has been updated since then and has proven to have even better results, replacing those empty carbs with foods rich in protein and good fats. The diet is also high in fibre foods and provides the proper balance between sodiumvitamins, and minerals to improve hypertension in the body. Given the wide popularity of the DASH Diet, perhaps we should see why it has received so much attention.


Health Benefits Of The DASH Diet

Let’s take a closer look at the many health benefits of the DASH Diet.

Lowers Blood Pressure

The original intention of the diet was to lower hypertension, as the name implies, and it does this by closely monitoring your intake of salt, which can significantly increase blood pressure. The diet also helps to balance the level of cholesterol and dangerous fats in your system, thus preventing atherosclerosis, which can tighten arteries and boost blood pressure, thus putting a strain on the cardiovascular system.

Weight Loss Efforts

Although the diet wasn’t designed for weight loss, that is certainly one of the side effects, namely because of the elimination of empty carbs, which provide empty calories and increase glucose instability within the body, which can lead to diabetes. By focusing on vegetables, fruits, protein, and heart-healthy fats, you can quell your hunger, reduce caloric intake, and cut back on obesity.

Heart Health

The reason that blood pressure is so dangerous is due to its impact on the heart. By putting excess strain on the blood vessels and arteries of the cardiovascular system, high blood pressure can significantly increase your chances of strokes and heart attacks. Furthermore, the high-fibre diet and balanced cholesterol levels will cut down on plaque build-up in the heart, which lowers the chances of heart disease and other complications in that vital organ system.

Prevents Osteoporosis

The composition of the DASH Diet means a high content of calcium, protein, and potassium, all of which are essential for preventing or slowing the onset of osteoporosis. By helping to build strong bones, the food of the DASH Diet, such as milk, lean proteins, grains, leafy vegetables, and fruits, all contribute to the large concentration of these nutrients. If you want to build strong bones while also reaping all these other benefits, then subscribing to the DASH Diet is a very good idea.

Kidney Health

The DASH Diet has been directly linked to the prevention of kidney stones, which can be very painful and compromise the proper function of the organ. The composition of the diet prevents the excess deposits of minerals that lead to kidney stones. High sodium intake is also a common factor that leads to kidney failure, as it can dehydrate the body and overwork the kidneys. The National Kidney Foundation has stated the potential value of the DASH Diet for those at high risk of kidney failure. However, if you already suffer from a chronic kidney disease, you require a more controlled diet and should speak with your doctor before adopting any new diet.

Prevents Cancer

One of the other side benefits of the DASH Diet is its undeniable impact on certain cancers. The high content of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains means a high concentration of fibre, vitamins, and antioxidants, which can prevent the impact of free radicals – the byproducts of cellular respiration that can cause mutation in healthy cells and lead to the spread of cancer.

Diabetes Care

By eliminating the empty carbohydrates and starchy foods from your diet, as in the revised version of the DASH Diet, you can avoid the simple sugars that the body can easily absorb and send into the bloodstream. This can mess with the body’s glucose and insulin levels, which can lead to diabetes, in some cases. Diabetes is a precursor to everything from obesity and cancer to heart disease.

A Final Word of Warning: If you suffer from a chronic disease, it is important to speak with your medical professional or a nutritionist before making any drastic changes to your diet. Nutrition is a key factor for all health concerns, but changing your diet can be disastrous unless done carefully.

+ References
What is Chronic Stress?



Infertility is one of the most common complaints I come across as a practitioner focused on women’s health. Thankfully there are many natural remedies that help to reduce symptoms, including specific herbs for endometriosis.

While there are many potential causes of infertility, endometriosis is among the most common. The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development conservatively estimated that 6%-11% of women of reproductive age have endometriosis (1). And The American Society for Reproductive Medicine estimates that the rates are between 24% and 50% in women struggling with infertility (2).


Endometriosis involves the presence and growth of endometrial tissue outside of the uterus. While this endometrial tissue can be found in more remote locations, it will most commonly grow within the pelvic area, appearing on the ovaries, fallopian tubes, peritoneum, colon, and bladder. Regardless of its location, all endometrial tissue will proliferate, shed, and bleed with cyclic hormonal changes. When this tissue resides outside of the uterus, it will irritate and inflame the local tissues, often leading to the pain generally associated with the condition.

what endometriosis looks like


The cause of endometriosis is yet unknown, though several ideas and theories are under investigation. It is thought that retrograde menstruation may play a part in many cases. Retrograde menstruation involves the flow of blood, menstrual debris, and endometrial cells back through the fallopian tubes and into the pelvic cavity, and may be caused by heavy bleeding or structural anomalies. Surgeries, such as D&Cs and C-Sections, can also cause the displacement of endometrial tissue

While these topics are still under research and debate, some environmental factors do have a corollary relationship with endometriosis. These include endocrine disruption, especially those yielding elevations in levels of estrogens. There is also evidence that oxidative stress and immunologic factors contribute to the pathogenesis of endometriosis (3).

Additional risk factors include: beginning menstruating before the age of 12; having cycles that are shorter than 28 days; heavier or longer than average periods; poor diet; environmental toxins; and fewer pregnancies.


Pain and discomfort are among the most troublesome symptoms of endometriosis. This can involve excessive pain during menstruation, during sexual intercourse, or at random times throughout the month. Sometimes the pain manifests as low-back pain; sometimes as irritable bowel pain; and sometimes as a general radiating pain throughout the pelvic region.

herbs for endometriosis


From the outset, I think it is important to be clear that herbs (and even pharmaceuticals) are unlikely to clear the body of endometriosis once it has been established. At this point, surgery is really the only way to remove the troublesome tissue. However, there are some herbs that may help to minimize the severity of the symptoms. As with all things, the severity of the condition and the goals of the individual need to be assessed when choosing interventions.

  • Cramp Bark – This herb is commonly known (and named) for its use in reducing the severity of menstrual cramps. I can personally attest that this works! When I have menstrual cramps I put some loose herb into a tea-ball and sip on it throughout the day. While this herb is most commonly used for menstrual cramping, it can be used for any pain associated with endometriosis. It is considered to be a uterine tonic, an antispasmodic, and an analgesic herb (4,5). It also a nervine so may help temper the emotional swings that can arise with hormone disruption.
  • Black Haw – This is a close relative of Cramp Bark and some herbalists contend that it is even more effective. It is more astringent than Cramp Bark and is a powerful antispasmodic with a particular affinity for the female reproductive system (4,5).
  • Partridge Berry (aka Squaw Vine) – Known to help provide relief of dysmenorrhea, Partridge Berry can also help to relieve uterine congestion and acts as a general uterine tonic. This herb is more effective in combination with other herbs and herbalists will rarely recommend it in isolation. Traditional herbalists often combine Partridge Berry with Red Raspberry and Comfrey when creating tonics to help reduce symptoms associated with endometriosis (5).
  • Vitex (aka Chaste Tree Berry) – This herb has a long history of use for supporting healthy levels of progesterone. Because elevated estrogens may be associated with endometriosis, it can be helpful to counter hyperestrogenism by helping the body produce sufficient levels of progesterone. Vitex is often used to correct irregular menstruation in women with endometriosis (5). Depending on the woman, Vitex may or may not be appropriate and/or beneficial. I always prefer to test the hormone levels before introducing herbs that can influence them.
  • White Peony – As with Vitex, White Peony can alter hormone levels and may only be appropriate for some women with endometriosis. Once again, I always recommend hormone testing for all women dealing with infertility! White Peony has been shown to support healthy progesterone production, reduce excess androgens, and it can effectively modulate estrogen and prolactin (3).
  • Milk Thistle – Milk Thistle is the premier herb for supporting the health of the liver. Since the liver is responsible for the conjugation and clearance of excess hormones (estrogens included), it is worth including this herb when dealing with conditions that may have a hormone-related component.
  • Rehmannia – Rehmannia’s anti-inflammatory and anti-spasmodic properties may benefit women with endometriosis. Rehmannia has also been shown to help reduce the formation of free radicals. As such, it can help to prevent some of the oxidative stress that is thought to play a part in the aetiology of endometriosis. This herb is commonly used in Traditional Chinese Medicine and is rarely used in isolation. When used for gynecologic conditions, it is often combined with Licorice Root, Dong Quai, and Peony (3).


ann melin herbalist Written by Ann Melin, CNC, CCMH, HHP, FDN-P

Ann is a Certified Clinical Master Herbalist, Holistic Health Practitioner, Nutritionist Consultant, and Functional Diagnostic Nutrition Practitioner specializing in women’s health issues, particularly as they manifest in common dysfunctions related to the hormone, immune, digestion, detoxification, and neurotransmitter systems.  She is also a Master of Science candidate in Marriage and Family Therapy with a specialization in Trauma and Crisis Counseling.

Ann’s passion for natural and holistic health began over 25 years ago when, as a teenager, she bought her first book on the healing properties of plants, attended her first yoga class, and participated in a series of mindfulness meditation classes.

Several years later, Ann suffered through several health challenges of her own.  Those struggles deepened her interest in restoring health through the use of an integrated set of natural healing modalities.

Through her own healing process, she touched into a core value of wanting to share this work with others by helping to support them through their own personal health journeys.

Ann’s typical clients are women who have struggled with nagging health problems, have seen multiple practitioners, and have been unable to achieve lasting results.

Ann has spent over a decade learning how to achieve health and wellness using natural, non-toxic, and holistic approaches.  Her current areas of interest and research are in the field of trauma, chronic stress, and their impact on chronic health problems. She is also intrigued by the ways that interaction with our natural resources can bring about healing on all levels.

You can find Ann over at The Women’s Wellness Collaborative, working with Bridgit Danner, and offering one on one coaching.




(1) Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. (n.d.). “How many people are affected by or at risk for endometriosis.” Retrieved from

(2) American Society for Reproductive Medicine. (2012). “Endometriosis.” Retrieved from

(3) Romm, A. (2010). Botanical medicine for women’s health. St. Louis, MO: Churchill Livingstone.

(4) Tierra, M. (1998). The way of herbs. New York, NY: Pocket Books.

(5) Hoffmann, D. (2003). Medical Herbalism: The science and practice of herbal medicine. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press.

What is Chronic Stress?

Benefits of Nicotinamide

Benefits of Nicotinamide

Benefits of Nicotinamide

Nicotinamide is made from vitamin B3, also called niacin, in your body. You can get nicotinamide by eating niacin-rich foods such as poultry, beef, fish and fortified cereal, or by taking a niacin or nicotinamide supplement. Nicotinamide plays an essential role in energy production and nutrient synthesis. It may also play a role in preventing type 1 diabetes and some cancers.


Your body uses nicotinamide to form two important coenzymes called nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide, or NAD, and nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate, or NADP. Your body needs NAD and NADP for many essential reactions including energy production, DNA repair, regulation of cell differentiation and cell death. If you are not getting enough nicotinamide or niacin from your diet, these essential reactions may be affected.


Nicotinamide may help prevent insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus, also known as type 1 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that results when the insulin-producing beta-cells of the pancreas get destroyed by your body’s own white blood cells. According to a study published in the “The British Journal of Clinical Practice” in 1992, nicotinamide may protect beta-cells from damage and improve insulin secretion in high-risk patients. However, more research is needed to evaluate the effects of nicotinamide in the treatment of type 1 diabetes.


Nicotinamide may also play a role in preventing cancer. According to the Linus Pauling Institute, NAD can influence cellular response to DNA damage and help prevent cancer development. Taking increased doses of niacin with antioxidants decreased oesophagal, throat and mouth cancers by 40 percent. However, more research is needed to evaluate whether taking nicotinamide has the same effects.


Taking nicotinamide can help prevent a condition called pellagra, caused by vitamin B3 deficiency. Pellagra can cause dark red skin rash on your hands, feet, calves, neck and face, gastrointestinal problems, fatigue, insomnia and memory loss. If left untreated, pellagra can be fatal. Pellagra is treated by taking high doses of nicotinamide or niacin.


Although nicotinamide is better tolerated than niacin, consuming high amounts can lead to toxicity. Symptoms of overconsumption include vomiting, nausea and hepatitis. The recommended upper intake level for nicotinamide and niacin is 35 mg per day.

Taking niacin can help lower blood cholesterol levels and lower your risk of heart diseases. However, this effect is only found when consuming niacin, also known as nicotinic acid, and not nicotinamide.

What is Chronic Stress?

Nutrients required for female fertility

Nutrients required for female fertility

To follow on from last week’s blog ‘male fertility and mitochondrial function’, this blog is focusing on female fertility. Low fertility, which is thought to affect one in six couples trying to conceive, can be a heartbreaking and very stressful situation. Often there is no decisive causative factor leading to infertility or subfertility.

Although this can be the cause of frustration it does mean that if we can optimise health, the chances of conception and a healthy pregnancy can improve. As mentioned in previous blogs, it is advisable to optimise health before attempting to conceive, in order to enhance fertility and support the health of the baby. See blog: Preconception Care.

In order to achieve conception the following things need to happen:

  1. Production of viable sperm (see blog: male fertility and mitochondrial function)
  2. Adequate transport of sperm to female genital tract
  3. Normal oocyte (egg) production
  4. Transport of sperm and oocyte to fertilisation site in fallopian tube
  5. Penetration of oocyte by sperm
  6. Transport to and implantation of uterus

Clearly, both the health of the male and female are equally important for a pregnancy to occur; this blog focuses on female fertility. The production of a normal oocyte relies on adequate hormonal control and a healthy balance of all female hormones particularly oestrogen and progesterone. Interruption to hormonal control can be affected by a number of factors and these should be considered and managed as appropriate. These include:

  • Stress and adrenal dysfunction – cortisol inhibits the release of Gonadotrophin Releasing Hormone (GnRH) and therefore can suppress ovulation and sexual activity. Adrenaline can also inhibit the utilisation of progesterone, therefore disrupting hormonal control of the reproductive system. Cortisol is produced from DHEA, as are all of the sex hormones, therefore excess production of cortisol has the ability to deplete production of other steroid hormones. So, if excess stress or adrenal dysfunction is suspected, stress management techniques and adrenal support should be implemented.
  • Low thyroid function – hypothyroidism is associated with low fertility, therefore thyroid conditions or sub-clinical hypothyroidism should be considered and supported if fertility is reduced.
  • Poor gut and liver function – the liver and gut are responsible for the excretion of oestrogen. If they are not working efficiently oestrogen, which is destined for excretion, can be reabsorbed into the body (particularly in cases of constipation). This can lead to a higher ratio of oestrogen to progesterone, known as oestrogen dominance, which has been shown to have a negative effect on fertility and also increases risk of conditions such as endometriosis and PMS. Therefore, the health of the gut and liver should be considered when supporting fertility. Preconception plans are focused on supporting both the gut and the liver.
  • Weight – A low BMI (under 19) or less than 17% body fat, can result in anovulation (a lack of ovulation). A BMI of over 30 can also interfere with ovulation, increase risk of miscarriage and reduce IVF success. Optimum fat percentage for fertility is 20-25% (this is also a healthy BMI).
  • Age – after the age of 35 fertility begins to reduce. It is advisable that women over 35 who have been attempting to conceive for over a year should seek potential intervention or investigations to optimise chances of conception.

Other factors associated with poor fertility which should be addressed are:

  • Irregular sleep patterns
  • Smoking
  • Alcohol
  • Environmental toxins
  • Marijuana
  • Caffeine

It is important to consider these external factors however, this blog is focusing on nutrients that are required for fertility and with or without the above factors these dietary principles and nutrient intakes should be implemented to support overall fertility.

Dietary Principles:

Dietary recommendations for fertility are aimed at supporting healthy hormone and oocyte production and mitochondrial function, which is required for DNA replication and cell (oocyte) formation. Dietary characteristics associated with optimal fertility include:

  • Avoidance of trans fatty acids (found in heavily processed and baked goods)
  • High intakes of healthy fats including omega 3 and monounsaturated fat
  • Lower intake of animal protein and high intake of vegetable protein
  • Lower intake of high glycaemic load carbohydrates (e.g. white bread, pasta and rice) and sugar
  • High intake of fibre from vegetables, fruits and some whole grains
  • Subfertility has also been seen in individuals with the coeliac disease and non-coeliac gluten sensitivity. Therefore, avoidance of gluten should be considered

Specific nutrients for fertility

The health of the cell membrane surrounding the oocyte is really important for overall oocyte health and development and also for allowing the sperm to penetrate it. Therefore, cell membrane health should be supported:

Essential Fatty Acids – Omega 3 fats can be incorporated into the cell membrane aiding membrane fluidity and assisting oocyte penetration. EFAs are also associated with supporting normal hormone production, mitochondrial and adrenal function. DHA is particularly important for the cognitive development of the growing foetus.

As with male fertility, the function of the mitochondria is essential. This is because there is a high rate of cellular replication during oocyte development. The developing embryo also requires optimally functioning mitochondria in order to grow and develop. Some nutrients which support cellular replication and mitochondrial function are:

L-Carnitine – involved in fatty acid metabolism within the mitochondria and therefore supports energy production required for oocyte development, acceptance of spermatozoa and subsequent formation and development of the embryo (embryogenesis).

L-Arginine – a precursor to nitric oxide which has been shown to be required for embryogenesis, hormone secretion, fertility in general and it is also required for cellular replication.

Oxidative stress can have a negative effect on the mitochondria leading to damage and suboptimal function but also may affect the health of the oocyte. If the cell membrane of the oocyte is exposed to oxidative stress it can be more difficult for the spermatozoa to penetrate it. Therefore, it is advisable to reduce environmental oxidative stress (caused by some of the factors mentioned above) and increase a number of antioxidants in order to help prevent damage caused by oxidation. Some antioxidants that have been found to be supportive for reproductive health are:

Alpha Lipoic Acid – powerful antioxidant which also regenerates vitamin C, vitamin E, CoQ10 and glutathione.

Vitamin A – an antioxidant that also is responsible for cellular growth and differentiation and is required for embryonic development. However, caution is needed with supplementation in pregnancy and high vitamin A intakes have been associated with congenital abnormalities. However, beta-carotene (precursor to vitamin A and an antioxidant in its own right) can be taken safely in pregnancy.

Vitamin C – another antioxidant that also has the ability to regenerate glutathione. It has further effects on reproductive health as it has a positive effect on growth and repair of the ovarian follicle and the development of the corpus luteum (essential for maintaining pregnancy). Vitamin C is also associated with a reduced risk of preeclampsia.

Vitamin E – a fat soluble antioxidant which is also important for maintaining ovarian health.

Selenium – supports thyroid hormone production (as mentioned earlier suboptimal thyroid function is associated with low fertility), it is also a powerful antioxidant and involved, again, in glutathione regeneration.

Zinc – a cofactor for enzymes which are involved in the production of DNA and RNA as well as protecting against oxidative damage. Zinc also plays an essential role in the production and transport of reproductive hormones.

Other nutrients that do not have antioxidant properties still play an essential role in fertility these include:

B Vitamins: many of the B vitamins are involved in cellular replication and normal DNA as well as hormone production and specific roles involved in fertility, pregnancy and healthy offspring. These include:

Thiamine (B1) – shown to stabilise membranes of newly generated neural cells.

Riboflavin (B2) – important for mitochondrial energy production as well as antioxidant defence.

P5P (B6) – required for normal production of some hormones and neurotransmitters as well as metabolism. A lack of B6 may be associated with pregnancy-related nausea.

Folate (B9) – required for healthy DNA and RNA synthesis associated with a reduced risk of spinal bifida (ideally women should supplement 400ug for at least 3 months prior to conception).

Methylcobalamin (B12) – works with folate for DNA and RNA synthesis and also protects against neural tube defects. As well as affecting cell replication, sub-optimal levels can lead to high homocysteine levels which can have a negative effect on fertility.

Relevant Cytoplan products

Vitamin D – important for the healthy bone function of developing foetus, modulates immunity (autoimmunity has been linked to poor fertility and miscarriage) and is also involved in cell proliferation and differentiation.

Iodine – major constituent of thyroid hormone.

Iron – formation of red blood cells in mother and developing foetus and is also involved in energy production within the mitochondria.

Relevant Cytoplan products

Pregnaplan – Multivitamin and mineral appropriate for preconception, pregnancy and breastfeeding. Contains range of B vitamins including 400ug methyl folate, vitamin D3, iron, iodine, zinc, calcium, magnesium.

Cyto-Renew – Contains L-Carnitine and alpha lipoic acid as well as other antioxidant nutrients relevant to mitochondrial function.

Omega 3 Vegan – Omega 3 oil high in DHA.

Related Cytoplan blogs

Fertility and pregnancy – The importance of nutrition

Preconception care – optimising health of baby and mother 

Planning for a baby? Both eat lots of brussell sprouts!

Focusing on fertility 

Hypothyroidism – a bigger problem than we think?

Mitochondrial function and male fertility

have any questions regarding the topics that have been raised, or any other health matters please do contact me (Clare) by phone or email at any time., 01684 310099

The Cytoplan editorial team: Helen Drake, Clare Daley, Amanda Williams and Joanna Doverman.

What is Chronic Stress?

Hypothyroidism – A bigger problem than we think?


Hypothyroidism – A bigger problem than we think?

Currently 5-10% of the population is diagnosed with hypothyroidism, however, some experts estimate that between 25-40% of the adult population has suboptimal thyroid function.

Thyroid hormones regulate the activity of mitochondria, the energy powerhouses, in every single cell in the body, therefore they have an effect on virtually all of our bodily functions. So when we have a deficiency of thyroid hormones, symptoms can be wide-ranging and non-specific having a detrimental effect on overall health and often be being mistakenly diagnosed with something else.

Sub-optimal thyroid function could, therefore, be a factor in many more conditions than is currently realised and should be considered particularly in patients who do not respond well to interventions for other conditions.

Symptoms of low thyroid function include but are not limited to:

  • Depression
  • Difficulty losing weight
  • Dry skin
  • Headaches
  • Lethargy or fatigue
  • Memory problems
  • Menstrual problems
  • Hyperlipidaemia
  • Recurrent infections
  • Sensitivity to cold
  • Thinning of head hair
  • Voice changes

Thyroid hormones

Thyroid hormone activity is tightly regulated.  Firstly, the hypothalamus releases thyroid hormone releasing hormone (THRH), which stimulates the pituitary to release thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH).

TSH triggers the thyroid to produce T4 (thyroxine), a tyrosine molecule bound to 4 iodine molecules. About 20% of T4 is converted in cells into T3 (triiodothyronine, which is 4 times more potent than T4), by the removal of one iodine. Poor conversion may occur due to lack of co-factors or T4 may be converted to reverse T3; an inactive molecule still with a tyrosine and 3 iodine molecules but with a different structure to T3 and which can inhibit the action of T3. Anyone or more of these pathways can be interrupted leading to hypothyroidism.

  • Primary hypothyroidism – low T4 or T3 and high TSH (it can also be high T4 but low T3 because of poor conversion e.g. due to lack of cofactors such as selenium and zinc)
  • Secondary hypothyroidism – low T4 and TSH, poor pituitary release
  • Tertiary hypothyroidism – low production of THRH from hypothalamus
  • Autoimmune – production of antibodies against the thyroid gland
  • Wilson’s syndrome – normal levels of T4 and T3 but high levels of rT3

Hypothyroidism will be diagnosed with blood tests to measure TSH and T4, alongside specific symptoms. Occasionally T3 and rT3 will also be tested. Factors that lead to increased rT3 production include stress, dieting and low iron levels. It is thought to be a way for the body to reduce metabolic rate so as to conserve energy, as rT3 inhibits the action of T3.

It is quite common to have subclinical hypothyroidism, where no diagnosis will be made based on blood tests as results are within the normal range. However thyroid function is not optimal and therefore individuals can experience vague symptoms which are treated with weight loss diets, antidepressants, statin medications, IVF etc. whereas the actual problem is thyroid dysfunction.

Subclinical hypothyroidism can be consistent with the above symptoms as well as a low basal body temperature (temp below 36.5oC taken immediately upon waking, although this can also be affected by adrenal, immune and menstrual function) and the Achilles reflex test (slowed in hypothyroidism), as well as suboptimal blood results or auto-antibodies.

If you are diagnosed with hypothyroidism you will likely be prescribed thyroxine (artificial T4 thyroid hormone) which can help to alleviate many associated symptoms. However, this is if T4 can be adequately converted to T3 – if selenium or zinc is low then this conversion may not work well and people may remain symptomatic.

For people with subclinical hypothyroidism, there is little medical support available. It is possible, however, to support thyroid hormone production with nutritional interventions.

Key Nutrients

Many nutrients can be used to support thyroid health but these are the ones which are directly involved in the production of thyroid hormones:

Tyrosine – An amino acid that is a major constituent of T4, should not be supplemented along with thyroid hormone replacement medications e.g. thyroxine unless under the supervision of a qualified medical practitioner.

Iodine – four iodine molecules are combined with tyrosine to produce T4, should not be supplemented along with thyroid hormone replacement medications unless under the supervision of a qualified medical practitioner.

Selenium – a cofactor for the enzyme which manufactures T4, and the enzyme which converts T4 into T3.  Supplementation has also been shown to lower auto-antibodies to thyroid hormones.

Zinc and copper – cofactors for the conversion of T4 to T3.

A deficiency of any of these nutrients may lead to reduced levels of thyroid hormones.


Goitrogenic foods including soy and raw brassica vegetables (in large quantities) can bind to iodine, making it unavailable to the thyroid, thus inducing an iodine deficiency. Cooking inactivates this action, therefore, it is not necessary to avoid these foods but they should not be consumed raw in excess.


When we are under physical, psychological or environmental stress our adrenal glands release cortisol. High levels of cortisol can interfere with the conversion of T4 to T3, leading to a reduction in T3, and have been shown to increase rT3. Therefore, stress management and adrenal support are vital when supporting the thyroid. The adrenal glands should be supported both with diet and lifestyle.

Vitamins C, B5 and B6  support normal adrenal function and cortisol production.

Magnesium is considered a natural tranquilliser due to its function to relax both skeletal and smooth muscle. It is also an essential cofactor for many enzymes involved in the production of adrenal hormones and therefore is depleted in times of stress.

Phosphatidylserine has inhibitory effects on HPA (stress) axis – it has been shown to lower cortisol levels.

Adaptogenic herbs, such as Ashwagandha, Siberian ginseng, Panex ginseng and Rhodiola, modulate the stress response.

Lifestyle –  many lifestyle factors can help to reduce cortisol levels and calm the mind and body here are a few examples:

  • Meditation or mindfulness
  • Moderate, enjoyable exercise
  • Yoga
  • Reading


Local conversion of T4 to T3 by the enzyme intestinal sulfatase in the gut is supported by healthy intestinal bacteria. Lipopolysaccharide (LPS) produced by dysbiotic bacteria inhibits this enzyme, again reducing T4 to T3 conversion. Therefore, in order to support conversion of T4 to T3 a healthy gut flora should be encouraged.

For example, by consuming prebiotic and fermented foods such as chicory, apples, Jerusalem artichoke, dark green leafy vegetables, olives, plain yoghurt, kefir, raw sauerkraut and kimchi; and taking a live bacteria supplement, containing a wide variety of beneficial strains.


Hashimoto’s disease is a form of autoimmune hypothyroidism. The onset of Hashimoto’s’ disease has been associated with the coeliac disease as well as non-coeliac gluten sensitivity. Gluten has been shown to cause local inflammation of the enterocytes which line the digestive tract.

Gliadin found in gluten can activate zonulin which has a negative effect on the permeability of the gut leading to damage and the progression of leaky gut. When this happens larger proteins, allergens and toxins are allowed into the bloodstream. This can lead to systemic inflammation and triggers immune complexes, which have the potential to produce antibodies against proteins that are similar to our own body tissues, and therefore lead to autoimmune disease.

In order to help modulate autoimmunity the health of the gut should be considered as well as immune-modulating nutrients:

  • Remove gluten and casein which have been shown to have a detrimental effect on gastrointestinal permeability
  • Glutamine, found in bone broths or as a supplement, supports the repair of the gastrointestinal lining
  • Vitamin D3 – T helper 1 (Th1) is an essential part of the innate immune system, particularly in response to infection. However, the balance of Th1 cells with T helper 2 (Th2) cells needs to be tightly regulated. Excess Th1 compared with Th2 for prolonged periods of time, in the absence of acute infection, is known as Th1 dominance and is associated with tissue-specific autoimmune diseases such as Hashimoto’s. Research has shown that D3 can reduce Th1 dominance.
  • Reduce exposure to xenobiotics which have been shown to increase thyroid autoantibodies. See Cytoplan blog: Planning and implementing a detox for ways to reduce exposure and support detoxification.


Inflammation is at the heart of most chronic diseases particularly autoimmune diseases, the Western diet and lifestyle tend to promote inflammation. It is essential that inflammation is reduced as much as possible in all people including those with reduced thyroid function. Pro-inflammatory cytokines have been shown to depress levels of circulating T3 and may interfere with the HPT (hypothalamus-pituitary-thyroid) axis. The following can help to reduce inflammation:

  • Reducing foods high in omega 6 – e.g. farmed meats, dairy products and vegetable oils (such as sunflower and corn oils).
  • Increasing sources of omega 3 from e.g. oily fish and flax, chia seeds and/or a supplement containing EPA.
  • Curcumin – found in turmeric, has been shown to inhibit Cox-2 enzymes which produce inflammatory prostaglandins.
  • Obtaining good levels of vegetables (6-8 per day) including dark leafy greens high in anti-inflammatory phytonutrients and antioxidants.

T3 Receptor Binding

It has been shown in patients with hypothyroidism that the ability for T3 to bind to receptors in the mitochondria can be diminished. This can be due to genetic mutations but can also be affected by nutrient status:

Vitamin A regulates retinoic acid which interacts with thyroid receptors and may improve thyroid hormone activity.

EPA/DHA improves gene transcription in relation to thyroid receptor function.

Zinc is a cofactor for thyroid receptor production.

As with many if not all chronic conditions there is rarely one factor that leads to disease onset, therefore all of the above should be considered when optimising thyroid health. Thyroid health should always be considered in individuals with conditions associated with symptoms of low thyroid activity such as CFS, fibromyalgia, depression, weight gain, cognitive decline and sub-fertility but this list is not exhaustive.

For further information about supporting thyroid health, the effects of low thyroid function and support for those with thyroid conditions visit Thyroid UK website,

If you have any questions regarding the topics that have been raised, or any other health matters please do contact me (Amanda) by phone or email at any time., 01684 310099

Amanda Williams and the Cytoplan Editorial Team: Joseph Forsyth, Emma Williams, Simon Holdcroft, Clare Daley and Helen Drake

Related Cytoplan Products

Thyroid Support  

Thyroid Support has been developed to offer a Wholefood base multimineral supplement to support thyroid health. Thyroid support contains Kelp, L-Tyrosine plus active nutrients to help ensure optimum levels of naturally-occurring thyroid hormones.

Adrenal Support

Adrenal Support contains a combination of vitamins, minerals, herbs, nutrients and plant extracts that may help support healthy adrenal function, especially during stressful periods. This includes optimum levels of beneficial Food State™ pantothenic acid (vitamin B5), liquorice, ginseng and iodine.

Organic Kelp

Cytoplan’s kelp supplement comes in gluten-free capsules and contains 3 species of wild bladderwrack (the type of seaweed). The kelp is not only an organically rich source of iodine but also naturally ‘nutrient dense’ containing a broad spectrum of minerals, trace elements, micro-nutrients and vitamins, prebiotics and carotenoids. These act as catalysts in the body and stimulate vital enzyme reactions.

Acidophilus Plus

Acidophilus Plus contains Lactobacillus Acidophilus and 8 further live native bacterial strains, plus a small amount of prebiotic. This blend of native bacterial strains is designed to have activity throughout the whole GI tract.

Those on thyroid medication should consult their doctor before taking these products.

What is Chronic Stress?

The NEURO Plan for brain health

The NEURO Plan for brain health

Serialised in the Daily Mail and featured in a long review article in The Saturday Times, a new book called The Alzheimer’s Solution, written by neurologists Dr Dean Sherzai and Dr Ayesha Sherzai, has generated a huge amount of interest in the British press. Perhaps this is a reflection of our concern in the UK with this disease; many of us being touched by it directly or through friends and loved ones. Dementia is now the leading cause of death in the UK and Alzheimer’s disease is the main form of dementia.

Sherzai & Sherzai’s research adds to the growing evidence that a diet and lifestyle approach can dramatically cut the risk of Alzheimer’s – they suggest that The NEURO Plan, outlined in the book, reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s disease by 90% – NEURO stands for – nutrition, exercise, unwind, restore and optimise and has many similarities to The Bredesen Protocol and Cytoplan’s Action Against Alzheimer’s programme – (and see below for more information)

Skip to Key Takeaways

NEURO stands for:

Nutrition – the focus is on a whole food, plant-based diet. The importance of B vitamins and omega-3s are emphasised along with plenty of fibre and antioxidants from vegetables. Animal products are discouraged.

Exercise – this includes being active through the day, not just going to the gym (although it is recognised that exercise that raises heart rate and increases muscle strength should also be included). Exercise is important for ensuring adequate oxygen and nutrient delivery to the brain has anti-inflammatory benefits and stimulates an increase in a brain peptide called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) often described as miracle-gro for the brain.

Unwind – managing stress using meditation, yoga, music, or walking (a slow meditative walk). Stress has many damaging effects on the brain – for example, chronically high levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) destroys neurons (i.e. causes brain shrinkage), triggers inflammation, affects the gut, contributes to insulin resistance and increases blood pressure – all of which are relevant for brain health.

Restore – this refers to ensuring adequate sleep. Lack of sleep is linked to brain shrinkage (via activation of microglia, the brain’s immune macrophage cells), loss of concentration, focus and attention, low mood and increased risk of stroke. It is also during sleep that beta-amyloid plaques, part of the pathology of Alzheimer’s, are broken down.

Optimise – undertaking complex activities that challenge multiple functions and which therefore result in increased cognitive reserve. These would include activities such as learning a new language or musical instrument, playing chess or bridge, learning to dance. This also includes social interaction.

If you have read some of our previous blogs on Professor of Neurology, Dale Bredesen’s approach – ‘The Bredesen Protocol’ you will notice the similarities. The Bredesen Protocol includes all the above elements. As might be expected, there are a few differences in some of the detail and this may be partly related to the patients each has predominantly been working with. In the case of the Sherzais, the book suggests that they have mainly been working with people with early stages of brain impairment – subjective cognitive impairment (SCI) or mild cognitive impairment (MCI); whereas Professor Bredesen has been working predominantly with people with MCI or who have progressed to mild or moderate Alzheimer’s disease.

Both the Sherzais and Professor Bredesen emphasise the importance of vegetables and healthy fats. However, The NEURO Plan has a greater emphasis on the inclusion of whole grains and does not embrace the use of coconut oil, which The Bredesen Protocol recommends for people with diagnosed Alzheimer’s for the production of ‘ketones’ which the brain can use as fuel. Both approaches suggest limiting red meat, but The NEURO Plan also limits eggs and chicken (due to concerns about the saturated fat content) and favours the inclusion of daily intake of beans and pulses.

Other differences are that Professor Bredesen considers a more extensive use of supplements, for example, to support nutrient status (the brain has significant energy and micronutrient requirements), to reduce inflammation and optimise gut health, which is a key priority area.

Interestingly the Sherzais’ memory clinic is in California close to two very different communities – the healthy population of Seventh Day Adventists in Loma Linda and the adjacent community in San Bernardino, a deprived area with high rates of chronic disease and poor access to health care.

“We consistently found that people living a healthy lifestyle [the Seventh Day Adventist community] had a much lower prevalence of dementia. By contrast, those who lived unhealthy lifestyles got dementia more often and it usually emerged earlier in life” [referring to the neighbouring typical modern community of San Bernardino].

Loma Linda is considered one of the healthiest places in the world. A third of its residents are Seventh-Day Adventists whose faith is deeply connected to health and wellness. They are active, vegetarian, manage stress, are spiritual with strong community and family ties. This results in the people there living on average 7-9 years longer and importantly living longer free from the chronic disease compared to the general population.

This area is notable as being one of five areas in the world that have been designated a ‘Blue Zone’. Blue Zones were described by Dan Buettner in his excellent book of that name – these are areas in the world where communities of people live longer and importantly live well for longer (rates of chronic diseases are lower and it is common for people to live into their 90s or even over 100).

Blue Zones have been identified in Okinawa in Japan, Ikaria in Greece, Sardinia in Italy, Nicoya in Costa Rica and Loma Linda in California. In the book Dan Buettner identifies a number of diet and lifestyle characteristics that these communities around the world have in common:

People living in Blue Zones:

1) Move naturally – activity is part of daily life. This is about more than going to the gym, movement is within the fabric of their day-to-day;
2) Eat a diet that is mainly plant-based, meat is treated as a ‘side dish’ and may not be eaten every day. The diet is based on whole foods, processed foods are avoided;
3) Stop eating before they are full. The Okinawans have a name for it Hara Hachi Bu – which means that they stop eating when 80% full. Other research has also linked calorie restriction to anti-ageing benefits and longevity;
4) Drink red wine in moderation – this means just one small glass daily (however its worth mentioning that contrary to what is often reported in the press, research has shown that there is no benefit to mortality from moderate drinking – ‘all-cause mortality’ increases in line with alcohol consumption, with alcohol there is no safe dose. Having said that a small amount of red wine may reduce the risk of certain specific diseases e.g. heart disease)
5) Have a purpose in life. This means they know their reason for waking up in the morning
6) Take time to relax
7) Participate in a spiritual community
8) Make family a priority
9) Be surrounded by those who share their Blue Zone values

Multi-modal approaches to Alzheimer’s

Both Professor Bredesen’s and the Sherzais; approach take account of the multiple biological mechanisms that are involved in the development and progression of Alzheimer’s. On the other hand, drug therapy and monotherapies (single agent drug therapy) for neurodegenerative diseases have failed because they do not address the multifactorial nature of these conditions.

There are many studies supporting each of the elements (nutrition, exercise etc) on cognitive health, but fewer that have used a multifactorial approach. One other major study that has is the FINGER Study (Finish Geriatric Intervention Study to Prevent Cognitive Impairment and Disability). The research, published in The Lancet in 2015, was a multi-domain approach to preventing cognitive decline in at-risk elderly people from the general population in Finland. The findings from this large, long-term trial suggested that the multi-domain intervention could improve or maintain cognitive functioning.

The main hypothesis of this trial was that simultaneous changes in several risk factors would lead to a protective effect on cognition in at-risk elderly from 60-77 years of age.

The participants were divided into 2 groups. The control group of 565 people received regular health advice. The intervention group of 554 received additional intervention including nutritional advice (a plant-based diet high in omega 3 fatty acids), a physical exercise training programme (aerobic and resistance training), a cognitive training programme and social activities. Vascular risk monitoring was also undertaken for the intervention group.

At the end of the two year period, the intervention group had a significantly higher score in cognition (the primary outcome) and secondary outcomes of executive functioning and processing speed, plus BMI, dietary habits and physical activity.

Action Against Alzheimer’s Programme

Th Action Against Alzheimer’s programme has been developed at Cytoplan. Whilst Alzheimer’s and dementia may be diagnosed in our 70’s or 80’s, the processes that eventually result in dementia occur much earlier – in our 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s. The Action Against Alzheimer’s Programme is for people BEFORE they develop dementia; it is an upstream workshop programme based on a multi-modal diet and lifestyle approach. It is being delivered by Cytoplan Licensed Nutritional Therapists to small groups of the general public through a series of 8 workshops.

The workshops are designed to help people engage with each aspect of the programme and understand what they need to do to optimise brain function, thus the workshops cover: Nutrition, Gut Health, Stress, Sleep; Exercise & Brain Training. A home study module – the Self Care Journey – runs alongside the workshops and is designed to support the change process.

To find out more please visit –

Key Takeaways:

1) The NEURO Plan uses a multi-modal approach to brain health – Nutrition, Exercise, Unwind, Restore and Optimise
2) Similar in approach to The Bredesen Protocol which recognises that brain health is dependent on multiple factors – many biological mechanisms need to be optimised to bring the brain back to health
3) The Sherzais clinic in California is close to the Seventh Day Adventist community of Loma Linda. This is one of five Blue Zones that have been identified around the world. These are areas where people live without chronic ill-health for longer and where there are a larger proportion of people living into their 90s and 100s
4) People living in Blue Zones around the world share similar values and behaviours – they eat a whole food, unprocessed diet; activity is part of their life; family, community and having a sense of purpose are all important
5) Other research which has shown the benefits of a multi-modal approach is the FINGER study. This two-year study in Finland showed that diet and lifestyle change could prevent cognitive decline
6) The Action Against Alzheimer’s diet and lifestyle programme is being run by Cytoplan Licensed Nutritional Therapists working with small groups

you have any questions regarding the topics that have been raised, or any other health matters please do contact me (Clare) by phone or email at any time., 01684 310099

Clare Daley and the Cytoplan Editorial Team

Related Cytoplan Products

CoQ10 Multi – Our most comprehensive Wholefood Multivitamin and mineral formula available incorporating antioxidant CoQ10, Beta Glucan, and good all round vitamin & mineral levels.

R-Omega – a phospholipid rich DHA and EPA omega 3 supplement from herring roe. The DHA and EPA from herring roe is highly bio-available.

Omega 3 Vegan – Vegan Omega 3 from Marine Algae – a source of the Omega 3 essential fatty acids EPA and DHA.

Phytoshield – a  phyto-antioxidant nutrient formula containing high levels of flavonoids and carotenoids.

Liposomal Glutathione Complex – an antioxidant formula comprising; N-Acetyl L Carnitine, Alpha Lipoic Acid, Gingko Biloba, Rosemary Leaf Extract, Liposomal Glutathione and Resveratrol.

Tocopherols & Tocotrienols – Containing the full spectrum of vitamin E as it occurs in nature; alpha, beta, delta, gamma tocopherol and alpha, beta, delta, gamma tocotrienol.

Phyte Inflam – Phyte-Inflam is a natural phytonutrient herbal complex containing curcumin from turmeric and gingerols from ginger root.

Ashwagandha – comes at a potency of 500mg per capsule.

Bacopa Monnieri – a herbal product at a potency of 500mg per capsule.


Bredesen D (2017) – The End of Alzheimer’s

Buettner D (2008) – The Blue Zones. National Geographic Society

Morris M C et al (2015) – MIND diet associated with reduced incidence of Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s & Dementia, 11, 9, 1007-1014

Ngandu T et al (2015) – A 2 year multidomain intervention of diet, exercise, cognitive training and vascular risk monitoring versus control to prevent cognitive decline in at-risk elderly people (FINGER): a randomised controlled trial. The Lancet, 385 (9984), 2255-63

Sherzai D & Sherzai A (2017) – The Alzheimer’s Solution. A revolutionary guide to how you can prevent and reverse memory loss. Simon & Schuster UK Ltd

What is Chronic Stress?

How stress rewires the brain From Cyto

How stress rewires the brain

It’s 2017. Who isn’t exposed to some kind of stress or another, either continuously or just “part-time”?

This week’s blog discusses common causes of stress and how it can ‘rewire the brain’. The article is written by expert practitioner Miguel Toribio-Mateas, who will be speaking at our next Cytoplan Practitioner Education Event on 7th October. You can find out more about the event via this link.

Jobs, finances, relationships, even pets. I love my two Labrador boys to pieces. They do give me a huge amount of pleasure when they behave, but they can also stress me out, for example, when they decide to start barking at the postman in the middle of a work phone call.

Another type of stress I see a lot of is anxiety about one’s own health. Being stressed about a condition you’re suffering from and anxious about getting better can be all consuming and unfortunately a growing number of people I see in the clinic have fallen into that vicious circle.

Whatever your stressor, whether it’s dogs, illness or anything else, prolonged psychological stress tends to be accompanied by elevations in blood cortisol known as, “the stress hormone”. This leads to a potential fight-or-flight response we are designed to experience as a short-lived reaction to allow us to either fight or flee (literally) becoming chronic. The results: we’re on edge permanently, sometimes without even knowing why.

If you’ve reached that kind of psychological state where everything is a chore and you’re easily irritated, fatigued or even “not bothered”, it is very likely that cortisol has started to “rewire your brain” in a maladaptive way.

What does this mean and how does it happen.

In fact, why does it even happen? Well, cortisol has a number of jobs. It is secreted by the adrenal glands as a messenger to tell muscle and liver tissue to release sugar (stored in these tissues as glycogen) into the bloodstream. That sugar (or glucose) can then be transformed into energy fairly quickly by mitochondria (the tiny power plants inside every single cell of your body) supporting your ability to fight or to flee, whichever of these two actions you might choose to engage in. Only that a lot of the time you have nothing/no one to fight or flee from because whatever is triggering your anxiety is entirely in your head. This doesn’t mean you are imagining things. It’s a loophole in how we are wired to react to stress that evolution hasn’t taken into account. For example, we’ve not evolved (yet) to overcome the fear of missing out (FOMO). My iPhone keeps pinging. It’s Twitter, Instagram, email, phone calls, meetings…  If it wasn’t for good old cortisol (and his hormonal brigade adrenaline, and noradrenaline) I couldn’t react to all of that. So I don’t want you to think of cortisol as the bad guy in the movie. It’s just learning how to tame it that’s the important thing, so it doesn’t run wild, running you down with him!

Cortisol is released also as a natural anti-inflammatory substance whenever there’s inflammation to be dampened down, which is partly why inhibiting your ability to react to stress by means of cortisol reduction may not be the obvious answer you may already be thinking of. In fact, cortisol has many other roles and is involved in the stabilisation of blood pressure and the dilation of the bronchioles in the lungs. It is also one of the molecules that set the pace of the heartbeat and the activity of the digestive system. If you’re stuck in a fight-or-flight kind of situation, it is most likely that you’ve felt your heartbeat pound harder than normal, or even get palpitations at certain times? Equally, your bowel may not move as quickly or efficiently as you’d like it to. These reactions are most likely related to the activation of your “stress system” with cortisol driving these type of symptoms.

Figure 1. A summary of organs outside the nervous system that responds to the activation of the stress system.

Stress and resilience

Stressful experiences are not always “bad” for the brain. In fact, in the short term, being exposed to a stressor can lead to growth, adaptation, and new learning. The reason this happens is that the brain is designed as an allostatic system, i.e. a system that is able to find balance (normally referred to by the technical term “homeostasis”) in a dynamic environment. This allostatic or dynamic balance enables you to not only cope with stressful experiences but to adapt to them, regulating your stress levels accordingly, and learning how to manage them. In doing that, new connections are created between neurons that imprint this pattern in the brain so that you know how to deal with the situation in the future. This rewiring is referred to as neuroplasticity and neuroscientists refer to a situation where a stressful situation leads to learning and growth as “adaptive neuroplasticity”. The perfect example is preparing for an exam that you must pass to get a place in university, a promotion or the “Life in the UK” test that’s necessary to get British nationality, like I had to do recently when I decided to apply to become a dual British / Spanish citizen after living here for 23 years. You’re under pressure because you really want to get that job, or that place on that course, or to increase your exotic rating by holding two passports. Cortisol is likely to be high, mobilising all resources necessary to keep you alert. Your pulse will be fast, you’ll be full of beans, you may even feel you need to go to the toilet more frequently as being in that acute fight-or-flight situation, your brain sends signals to your gut that it needs to be empty in case you need to escape from this perceived stressor. The fact is that your brain doesn’t differentiate between the exam and a lion. The stress of the exam is in your head and a hypothetical lion would be real, but really your brain “sees them” as the same thing and responds to them in exactly the same way. Your bronchioles expand so you can get more oxygen into your muscle in case you need to fight or flee the danger. You sit the exam and as the bell tells you it’s time to put your pen down, both your body and your brain crash. Mission accomplished. All those resources that had been mobilised to allow you to achieve your goal are now terminated, and the connections between neurons that were created to enable that extra learning bandwidth become semi-permanent fixtures of your “new” brain.

Figure 2. As illustrated by its response to increased physical activity, the human brain has a considerable degree of plasticity and resilience (reproduced with permission from McEwen and Gianaros (2011) Annu Rev Med. 2011; 62: 431–445. doi:10.1146/annurev-med-052209-100430).

However, when the activity of allostatic systems is sluggish, ineffective, prolonged, or not terminated promptly, allostatic systems can impair mental and physical health through their maladaptive effects on brain plasticity and metabolic, immune, and cardiovascular pathophysiology (allostatic load).

Maladaptive response to stress: When rewiring goes wrong

If your stressor doesn’t go away as in the example of the exam above, and becomes chronic, e.g. worrying about job security, financials, your own health or that of a family member you’re caring for, etc. the effects of stress become problematic for health in the long term, particularly when they’re uncontrollable, unpredictable, and difficult to cope with because of a lack of supportive personal, social, and environmental resources.

In fact, neuroscientists have found that if you’re having to deal with stressful experiences every day the risk of your resilience against physical and mental illness diminishing or even “breaking” is much higher than if you were dealing only with acute stressors. So a little stress is good, but a lot of it is not. In the adult, as well as in the developing brain structural as well as neurochemical changes take place as a consequence of all experiences, including those that are stressful. Modern neuroimaging techniques show that loss of resilience is a key feature of disorders of stress adaptation such as anxiety and depression. Both of these conditions are characterised by maladaptive neuroplasticity, a situation where the connections between neurons I referred to before having established a negative pattern in the brain that has become the default.

Figure 3. Maladaptive neuroplasticity doesn’t only affect the brain. It has a number of ramifications across body systems (reproduced with permission from Peterson (2012) Neural Plast. 2012;2012:516364. doi: 10.1155/2012/516364).

What can you do to restore the “adaptive” state?

The brain is the central organ of stress and adaptation. It regulates and responds to a number of factors that contribute to this ongoing balance or allostasis. When the stress system is dysregulated and overused more wear-and-tear of the brain itself leads to subsequent loss of balance in other body systems due to increased allostatic load. Imagine yourself as a boat carrying a heavy load across from the UK to Ireland. Suddenly a helicopter drops another couple of crates for you to carry, making you heavier than you had anticipated and triggering some damage on your hull that lets water in as you start to sink. You get rid of some of the load you need the least by throwing it in the sea, and that makes matters slightly better, before another helicopter drops another couple of crates. Interventions that help you manage your allostatic load include improving your diet. With the right nutrients you’ll not only lighten your load, but also fix your hull so water no longer makes you more prone to sink. Some key nutrients are poly and monounsaturated fats from fish and olive oil, respectively, as well as methyl factor vitamins like folate, B12 and B6, and plant phenols (antioxidants in “old school” science) that help the brain directly and also indirectly via gut-brain communication. Additionally, regular physical activity and having access to a social support and integration, e.g. close contact with friends and family, all help you manage that load so you can continue to sail without having to worry constantly about the excess load and the damage it can cause. A sustainable period of balance promotes adaptive or positive plasticity that can be long-lasting.

Figure 4. Some of the interventions known to help restore adaptive neuroplasticity (reproduced with permission from Peterson (2012) Neural Plast. 2012;2012:516364. doi: 10.1155/2012/516364).

Some of the areas of the brain that show both adaptive and maladaptive forms of plasticity, i.e. that are affected by allostatic load, and are implicated in stress-related vulnerability to chronic health conditions include regions of the prefrontal cortex, hippocampus, and amygdala. At the upcoming event with Dr John Briffa in October I will be discussing in more detail how we can interact with these brain areas by means of simple, safe, and science-based nutrition and lifestyle interventions that help prevent and reduce the impact of the maladaptive response to stress on the health of the brain and the rest of the body. Hope to see you there.

Miguel is a doctoral researcher in cognitive ageing who’s experienced the research process from the laboratory bench – having completed a lab-based Masters in Clinical Neuroscience focusing on brain ageing – to the delivery of scientific findings in the consultation room, delivering quality individualised nutrition care to his clients from 2009. Miguel’s background includes 15+ years in senior training roles in life sciences and medical publishing, and he has trained scientists and researchers around the world.

A Cytoplan Practitioner Education Event – Saturday 7th October, 10.00am – 5.00pm.

Riverside Building, County Hall, London, SE1 7PB

Miguel will be speaking at our Cytoplan Practitioner Education Event on 7th October 2017, on how to manage stress, promote resilience and support neuroplasticity. To find out more about this event, please follow this link and book this week to get your early bird tickets.

With many thanks to Miguel for this blog; if you have any questions regarding the health topics that have been raised please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me (Clare) via phone; 01684 310099 or e-mail (

What is Chronic Stress?

Homemade Detox Drinks: 5 Major Health Benefits, Including Weight Loss

Homemade Detox Drinks: 5 Major Health Benefits, Including Weight Loss

Detox drinks - Dr. Axe

So many of us work hard every day and feel like we can barely get through it without needing some sort of energy boost. We tend to turn to sugar for a quick pick-me-up, but that’s really doing more harm than good. Many people don’t realize that the sluggish and even bloated feeling we get during the day can be the result of excess toxins in the body. Detox drinks help to naturally reduce inflammation, boost energy, support digestion, cleanse the liver and promote healthy skin.

A 2011 study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine assessed the use of clinical detoxification therapies by licensed naturopathic doctors in the United States. One hundred ninety-six naturopathic doctors completed a survey about the use of clinical detoxification therapies; 92 percent of respondents reported using detox therapies and over 75 percent utilized detoxification to treat patients for environmental exposures, general cleaning and preventive medicine, gastrointestinal disorders and autoimmune diseases. (1)

But you don’t need a doctor to detoxify your body. Detox drinks are simple to make — there are a number of fruits, vegetables and herbs that stimulate detoxification while providing vitamins and minerals that keep the body functioning properly. Experiment with detox drinks today and notice how light, fresh and clear-headed you feel afterwards.

I predict that you’re going to want to make detoxing a part of your health routine.

Why Choose Detox Drinks?



When you hear the word “detox,” do you immediately think that it requires fasting or some special formula? It’s really much simpler than that. Detox drinks can be made with ingredients you already have at home, like lemon, apple cider vinegar, cucumbers and watermelon. There’s nothing fancy to it.

Every day we are exposed to environmental pollutants, preservatives, heavy metals, pesticides and cancer-causing chemicals. We inhale, ingest or come into contact with these toxins and they get stored in the tissues and cells throughout our bodies. Many of these toxins have demonstrated harmful cancerous, reproductive, metabolic and mental health effects. Detox drinks help us to avoid toxic overload before it becomes a major health problem. (2)

Some signs of a toxic overload include:

  • constipation
  • bloating
  • gas
  • headaches
  • fatigue
  • aches and pains
  • nausea
  • belly fat
  • skin problems
  • food cravings
  • low energy
  • bad breath
  • mood swings

Detox drinks guide - Dr. Axe

5 Major Benefits of Detox Drinks 

1. Removes Toxins from the Body (and Cleanse the Liver)

Environmental pollutants, pesticides, heavy metals and chemicals are stored in our tissues and cells. This affects immune system function, our mood, metabolism and our ability to fight disease; in fact, symptoms of poor health in people free from diagnosed disease may also be related to toxin buildup.

A 2000 study published in Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine investigated whether a seven-day program of detoxication, such as a heavy metal detox, can improve well-being and enhance the activity of live detoxification pathways. As a result of the detox, there was a 23 percent increase in liver detoxification capacity and an increase in the urinary sulphate-to-cretinine ratio after treatment, indicating a trend toward improved liver function. (3)

2. Reduces Inflammation

When you cleanse the liver and give your digestion system a chance to rest by having detox drinks and smoothies instead of heavy meals, you are reducing disease-causing inflammation and swelling of the body. Some detox drink ingredients, like watermelon, cucumber, strawberries and ginger help to reduce inflammation while easing your digestive system. (4)

3. Aids Weight Loss

Detox drinks can boost your metabolism and energy levels, leaving you feeling fresh and light throughout the day. Some fruits, like benefit-rich grapefruit, even contain special enzymes that help the body to utilize sugar, thereby boosting the metabolism and aiding weight loss.

A 2013 study published in the Journal of Chiropractic Medicine evaluated the effects of a 21-day detox program. Seven participants stuck to a diet that involved unlimited fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables and at least 64 ounces of water a day. They were also allowed to consume complex carbs and protein shakes throughout the program.

As a result of the detox, the seven participants demonstrated short-term weight loss (an average of 11.7 pounds) and improvements in their lipid profiles. Total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels decreased. (5)

4. Promotes Skin Health

By eliminating toxins from the body and reducing inflammation, detox drinks boost skin health and minimize the signs of ageing. When the skin becomes clogged with pollutants and chemicals, it leads to wrinkles, dryness and other signs of ageing.

Strengthening the skin’s metabolic mechanisms with fruits and vegetables enhances the lustre of the skin. Many detox drink ingredients are often vitamin C foods, which can also help to naturally slow ageing and heal wounds by forming new scar tissue. (6)

5. Boosts Energy & Mental Alertness

The ingredients of any detox drink will work together to reduce inflammation, cleanse the liver and boost energy levels naturally. Without the toxin overload weighting you down, you will feel lighter and refreshed as opposed to living with fatigue, mood swings and brain fog.

Ingredients like lemon, rosemary and mint will rejuvenate the body and can even improve mental alertness. These powerful foods also help you to restore hydration, especially after exercise or a busy day. (7)

The Best Ingredients for Detox Drinks

There are a number of fruits, vegetables and herbs that can be added to water to support detoxification. Each one has specific components that aid detoxification while helping to boost the immune system and prevent chronic disease. To make your own detox drink, you can read through the benefits and combine the ingredients that are tailored to your needs specifically.

Watermelon — Watermelon is low in calories and helps hydrate the body. It fights inflammation and free radical damage while providing vitamin A and vitamin B, both known for having anti-ageing properties.

Watermelon contains a high amount of lycopene, a certain type of carotenoid that is responsible for giving watermelon its deep red or pink colour and serves as a powerful antioxidant. Studies have shown that lycopene plays a role in the prevention of chronic diseases and may prevent osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease and hypertension. Watermelon also provides potassium and magnesium, which are important for detoxification and managing blood flow and hydration levels in the body. (8)

Cucumber — Cucumber nutrition includes some impressive benefits when it comes to fighting free radical damage and inflammation. They also contain some powerful polyphenol compounds that can help to naturally slow ageing that is caused by oxidative stress. Cucumbers are diuretics, so they stimulate urination which helps to cleanse the liver, flush out bodily toxins and avoid water retention. (9)

Lemon — Lemon contains ascorbic acid, which helps to detoxify the body; it also aids digestion, keeps your skin glowing and provides vitamin C, which stimulates white blood cell production and boosts immune system function.

The benefits of lemon water include its ability to rejuvenate the skin, heal the body and boost energy. A lemon water detox may also help you to lose weight because lemon contains pectin, a type of fiber that helps you to feel full longer. (10)

Lime — Adding lime juice to detox drinks provides vitamin C and antioxidants. Vitamin C is known to improve physical performance, boost the immune system and fight free radical damage. Limes aid detoxification by promoting the activity of an enzyme in the liver called glutathione-S-transferase (GST). They also contain flavonoids that stimulate the digestive system and increase the secretion of bile and acids. (11)

Grapefruit — Did you know that just smelling the aroma of grapefruit affects the autonomic nerves, fat metabolism and appetite? Research conducted at Karolinska Institute in Sweden has shown that grapefruit benefits weight loss.

The enzyme found in grapefruit called AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) helps your body utilize sugar, which boosts your metabolism and aids weight loss. AMPK is generally activated during exercise to help muscles use stored sugar and fat for energy. Grapefruit also boosts the immune system because it is rich in vitamin C, hydrates the body and even promotes skin and brain health. (12)

Raspberries — Raspberries contain ketones, natural chemicals that are thought to help you lose weight fast. Animal studies have shown that raspberry ketones help to prevent the high-fat-diet-induced elevations in body weight as well as the weight of the liver and visceral adipose tissues. Whether or not ketones aid human weight loss is still up for debate, but raspberries are also high in vitamin C and B vitamins. They promote skin healthy and naturally slow ageing. (13)

Strawberries — Most of the health benefits associated with strawberry nutrition are due to the presence of anti-inflammatory antioxidants. Strawberries contain anti-ageing flavonoids that may lower the risk for chronic diseases, including cancer and cardiovascular disease.

Adding strawberries to detox drinks will also slow down the ageing process, protect the skin, provide vitamins A and C, and aid detoxification. A and C vitamins are especially needed during the body’s detox process in order to neutralize and eliminate toxins — leading to reduced inflammation, a regular digestive system and pH balance. (14)

Mint — Did you know that mint has one of the highest antioxidant capacities of any food? It’s the perfect ingredient for detox drinks because it invigorates the senses while soothing an upset stomach or indigestion. Mint improves the flow of bile through the stomach and speeds up the digestion process, helping to detoxify the body. It also has antimicrobial properties and can be used to support oral health. (15)

Ginger — The medicinal benefits of ginger comes from gingerols, the oily resin from the root that acts as a highly potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent. Ginger serves as an effective digestive aid and natural remedy for nausea. It can be added to any detox drink to help relieve bloating, constipation and gastrointestinal issues. Ginger is also known to warm the body the break down the accumulation of toxins in the organs. (16)

Rosemary — Rosemary is part of the mint family and has anti-inflammatory properties. It is also a fantastic detoxifier; it works by enhancing the body’s bile flow, which is essential for fat metabolism and detoxification. By helping to enhance the performance of the bile-producing gallbladder and balance out the microflora in the gut, rosemary boosts nutrient absorption and helps to reverse or prevent toxic overload. (17)

Dandelion — Dandelion greens increase urine production and serve as a natural laxative. Dandelions aid digestion by maintaining the proper flow of bile and cleansing the liver. They are a rich source of vitamin C, which helps with mineral absorption and reduces inflammation. Dandelions can also be used for loss of appetite, upset stomach, intestinal gas and gallstones. (18)

Apple Cider Vinegar — Drinking apple cider vinegar increases metabolism and speeds up weight loss. It contains an organic acid called acetic acid, which has shown to improve your metabolism. It also supports digestive function with its enzymes and probiotics and fights acid reflux naturally. Add apple cider vinegar to detox drinks in order to cleanse your live and lymphatic system. It helps balance your body’s pH and promotes cardiovascular stimulation. (19)

Aloe Vera Gel — Aloe vera gel has laxative and anti-inflammatory properties that help digestion, normalize pH balance, lessen yeast formation and encourage digestive bacteria. The enzymes present in aloe vera help to break down the proteins that we eat into amino acids and turn the enzymes into fuel for every cell in the body. This allows the cells to function properly, and it boosts the immune system. Add aloe vera to detox drinks to reduce inflammation, aid digestion and promote skin health. (20)


Detox drinks recipes - Dr. Axe


Natural Detox Recipes

Detox Water Recipes: 

After adding the ingredients to a glass jar or pitcher, let it sit for 3–5 hours or overnight. Add ice to your detox drink before enjoying. All of these detox recipe ideas call for 12 ounces of water, but you can always play with these portions and tweak the combinations. Any combination of these awesome detox drink ingredients will help to remove toxins from the body, boost energy, reduce inflammation and promote weight loss.

  • A handful of mint leaves, 2 cups of cubed watermelon and wedges from 1 lime
  • Wedges from 1 lemon and 1 cucumber sliced
  • Lemon juice from 1 lemon, 2 tablespoons of pure maple syrup and 1/8 teaspoon of cayenne pepper
  • 1 cup of sliced strawberries, 2 cups of cubed watermelon and 2 sprigs of fresh rosemary
  • 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar, lemon juice from 1/2 a lemon, a teaspoon of cinnamon and slices from 1/2 an apple
  • Lemon juice from 1 lemon and 3 tablespoons of aloe vera gel
  • Lemon juice from 1/2 a lemon and 1/2 inch knob of fresh ginger root, grated

You can also try my Secret Detox Drink recipe, which also features apple cider vinegar, lemon juice and cayenne pepper.

Detox Tea Recipes: 

Dandelion Tea — Steep dandelion roots or flowers in boiling water for 30 minutes. You can strain the roots and flowers or drink them with your tea. Dandelion tea helps to cleanse the liver; it serves as a diuretic and a good source of vitamin A.

Green Tea — Green tea contains powerful antioxidants, and it can reduce inflammation, lower blood pressure, reduce cholesterol levels, minimize signs of ageing and improve memory. You can find green tea at most grocery stores or buy green tea leaves and steep them in boiling water for 3–5 minutes, then drain.

Ginger Tea — Ginger tea soothes digestion, reduces inflammation and relieves nausea or upset stomach. You can find ginger tea at most grocery stores or make it yourself by steeping fresh ginger root in boiling water for 10 minutes. Add raw honey or lemon for flavour and extra detoxifying benefits.


  • Detox drinks are great for cleansing the body of toxins that have you experiencing digestive issues, weakness, bloating, nausea, mood swings and skin issues.
  • Detox drinks help to boost energy, cleanse the liver, aid weight loss, reduce inflammation and promote skin health.
  • There are so many powerful ingredients that can be added to your detox drinks. Read the benefits and decide what combination works for you.
  • Detox teas can also be beneficial; use ginger, lemon, mint or dandelion teas to make your own detox tea.
  • If you are looking to lose weight, detox drinks will help you to boost your metabolism and reduce inflammation that may have you feeling swollen and bloated. But detox drinks aren’t the only answer for weight loss; to get long-lasting results, pair these beneficial drinks with healthy meals and exercise.
What is Chronic Stress?

Grow Your Own Loofah Sponge (Yes, You Really Can!)

Grow Your Own Loofah Sponge (Yes, You Really Can!)

Loofah sponge - Dr. Axe

A loofah sponge probably conjures up images of rough, exfoliating fibers for bath time, but there’s really so much more to this vegetable. (That’s right, it’s a veggie.)

“Loofah,” also known as loofa, luffa or sponge gourd, is something most folks buy in the beauty aisle, but you can actually grow it at home. A loofah sponge actually comes from a vining plant in the gourd family. (It’s more formally known as Cucurbitaceae — this also includes summer and winter squash, pumpkin, watermelon, cucumber, melon and hard-shelled gourds.) Luffas, or loofahs, can be grown from seed as annuals in the United States, though they need a long season to mature into long-wearing sponges. (12)

Buying a Loofah Sponge

Lots of stores sell natural loofah sponges in either their original cylindrical shape or shaped into scouring pads or body mitts. Whatever shape you choose, here’s what to look for:

  • The fibers should give slightly when you squeeze them. When dry, loofah fiber is pretty stiff, but it should not crack.
  • Avoid any packages full of broken fibers.
  • If you’re lucky, your local farmer’s market may sell locally grown, organic, unbleached luffa sponges. These appear more of a light tan hue compared to the pale tan of bleached, commercial sponges.
  • Reject any luffas that have black patches and/or smell musty. They could trigger black mold symptoms.
  • Luffa fiber is easy to cut, so you can buy big ones and divide them into multiple scrubbers, based on what you want to use them for.

How to Use a Loofah Sponge

Never used a loofah sponge? No worries. Here’s how to work one into your hygiene and cleaning routines. (Just be sure to use separate ones for cleaning versus bathing.)

  • Wet your loofah sponge with warm water to soften it, add a little bit of soap or the natural cleaning product of your choice, and exfoliate or scrub away, using small, circular motions. (Gentle pressure is enough to clear away dead skin cells.)
  • Avoid extra tender skin and anywhere that’s uncomfortable.
  • A nice loofah sponge may just be the perfect way to get the most out of a healthy commercial or homemade body wash or goat milk soap.
  • If you make your own soap, you can put slices of clean, dry luffa sponge in your soap moulds when you pour it. This creates attractive and useful soaps with built-in scrubbers.

Health Benefits & Environmental Perks of Using Loofah Sponges

The tough, rounded fibers that make up a loofah sponge are perfect for deeply exfoliating your skin without damaging it. Include exfoliation in your natural skin care routine to create fresher, smoother and younger-looking skin.

Using a loofah sponge to gently exfoliate also:

  • Removes built-up oils and dirt particles clogging your pores, allowing them to contract and look smaller
  • Helps reduce breakouts; use part of home remedies for acne program
  • Removes dead skin cells, which can make your skin look patchy and your makeup cake up, accentuating wrinkles
  • Opens the skin up so it can absorb other skin care products faster and more completely

Emerging research suggests loofah could serve as a natural, more affordable material for wound care, too. Dried loofah even served as a skin substitute in an animal study, helping the test subjects heal during wound care. (34)

Vegan & Plastic-Free

If scrubbing with something that was once a live animal (a natural sea sponge) creeps you out, loofah sponges could be your new all-natural, renewable. Clean it and toss it into your DIY compost pile when it’s worn out!

Another perk? You can use loofah sponges instead of commercial exfoliating cleansers laden with plastic microbeads. Thankfully, the Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015 will ban microbeads in cosmetics that can be rinsed off by July 2017. Frankly, I’ve always preferred homemade face wash. (5)

Luffa Sponge Safety

Rinse your luffa with clear water after every use, squeeze it as dry as possible, and hang it to dry. Don’t keep it in the shower to dry, as moist conditions will likely promote bacteria growth. Like any other sponge or washcloth, the longer it stays moist, the more likely assorted bacteria and fungi are to set up housekeeping and raise a (large) family.

If you’ve been scrubbing your skin with your loofah sponge, you’re also adding trapped skin cells to the mix, giving the unwanted critters breakfast in bed, so to speak. You wouldn’t keep using a washcloth for months without tossing it in the washing machine periodically, and you shouldn’t do it with a natural loofah sponge either. Once or twice a week, toss your luffa in the dishwasher on high heat for disinfections or soak it in a diluted pure essential oils solution for 5 minutes, rinse well, and hang it up to dry. (6)

Loofah sponge - Dr. Axe

If you can hang it outside in the sunshine, that’s the best thing, as ultraviolet light is a very effective germ killer. If your luffa gets moldy looking or musty smelling, it’s time to toss it in the compost and start using a new one. Most people plan on replacing a luffa they use for exfoliating every 3 or 4 weeks. If it still looks and smells good at that point, you can always downgrade it to scrubbing the floor or the car, but don’t play Russian roulette with your skin’s health.

Grow Your Own Loofah Sponge

One of the best things about loofah sponges is you can grow your own. For the price one sponge, you can get a packet of seeds and grow a year’s supply if you have a garden with a sunny trellis or even a big planter.

Choosing Seeds

Loofahs are grown from seeds, so that’s what you need to get started. Two closely related gourds, Luffa aegyptiaca (commonly known as angled luffa, ridged luffa, Chinese okra, or vegetable gourd) and L. acutangular, also sometimes labeled L. cyclindrica (commonly known as smooth luffa, Egyptian luffa, or dishrag gourd), are both sold as luffa.

When you buy a packet of “luffa” seed, it may not specify which you are getting. The two kinds are used pretty much interchangeably, so you don’t need to sweat the details. Both are vigorous — as in at least 20 to 30 feet long — annual vines with showy yellow flowers. How the fruit looks depends on a bit on the type you plant: Angled luffa fruit have lengthwise ridges separated by deep groves; smooth luffa fruit only have shallow creases running the length of the fruit. Depending on the cultivar, fruit can be anywhere from 8 inches to 24 inches long at maturity. If you have a choice, the smooth luffa is a better shape for sponges. Two online seed companies that sell an assortment of cultivars of both kinds, including some short-season ones, are Kitazawa Seed Co. and Evergreen Seeds.

Planting Luffa Seeds

A luffa seed can take up to 150 or even 200 warm days to sprout, grow into a vine, flower and produce a ready-to-harvest sponge, so most gardeners in Zones 6 or lower start luffa seeds indoors in 6-inch pots about 4 to 6 weeks before the last probable spring frost. Gardeners in higher Zones can plant seeds directly in the soil or an outdoor container once the weather is warm in late spring. The soil – not the air — temperature needs to be at least 70 degrees Fahrenheit for good germination. Don’t jump the gun, the seeds will rot rather than grow.

What Luffa Plants Need to Grow

  • Luffa vines need full sun, lots of room to ramble (or a large trellis to grow up … a garden shed they can climb over works)
  • Rich soil
  • A consistent supply of water, but not soggy, waterlogged soil
  • Compost (beware of human sewage sludge in compost)

Luffa Growing Tips

  • Germination can take up to 14 days, so patience is a must
  • Before planting, soak seeds overnight in a glass of water to speed germination
  • Plant 3 or 4 seeds a few inches apart in a group, pushing them ¾-inch deep into the soil
  • Space groups 3 to 6 feet apart
  • Once the plants are a foot tall, cut off less vigorous seedlings at ground level, leaving just the strongest one or two per group to grow

Caring for Luffa Vines

  • Keep the weeds under control by pulling them or covering the area with organic mulch.
  • Water the plants deeply if there is no rain for a few days or if the leaves wilt.
  • Once the flowers start to appear, you may notice that some have tiny green gourds attached to them and some don’t. This is normal: gourds have male and female flowers. The female ones have tiny gourds that will develop if the flower is pollinated, the male ones exist only to create pollen and die.
  • If you have flowers with tiny gourds, but the gourds just shrivel up after the flower closes, you may not have enough bees or wild pollinators working your vine. In that case, you can play bee by plucking a male flower (no tiny gourd under it) that just opened and rubbing its dusty, pollen center against the sticky protrusion inside the center of any female flowers that opened that day.

Harvesting Luffa Sponges

If sponges are your aim, you’re going to leave the gourds on the vine all season until the green skin fades to yellow; after that, they brown and start to dry out. Ripening gourds lose weight, the skin gets dry and separated from the insides, and they may even rattle when you shake them. The longer a mature luffa can stay on the vine, the more fibers will develop and the tougher those fibers will be. Gourds harvested too early will have thin, fragile fibers that will just break and crumble when you try to peel and use them.

Once a luffa gourd is dry and the skin pops or cracks when you squeeze it, you can pick it and peel it immediately or store it in a dry place to do later.

If frost threatens, pick the most mature gourds and peel them immediately. Crack and peel off as much of the skin as possible, and shake out the seeds. (If the seeds are plump and the gourd was very dry and mature, save some of them to plant next spring.)

Soaking a partially peeled luffa overnight can help loosen stubborn skin bits. Wash the sap out of your sponge under running water or in a bucket of water. Allow to dry thoroughly before storing.

Luffa as an Ingredient? Yes, You Can Eat It

While we may think “sponge,” folks in much of the world think “yum” when it comes to luffa. No, I’m not suggesting you try eating a luffa sponge, but rather the flower buds, flowers and small, immature gourds.

Luffa flowers are much like squash flowers. As for the baby luffas, they’re a little firmer than zucchini when cooked, but taste pretty much the same and are equally adept at soaking up the flavors of whatever you cook them in. Young luffas are traditionally stir-fried, breaded and deep-fried, added to curries and stews and turned into chutney. Flowers can be stuffed and cooked like squash blossoms.

A cup of young luffa, chopped into 1-inch pieces, contains:

  • 19 calories
  • 1 gram of protein
  • 1 gram of dietary fiber
  • And a modest serving of vitamins and minerals National Nutrient Database. (7)

Health Aspects of Eating Vegetable Luffa

In many Asian countries, young luffa gourds are revered for more than their taste and nutrition. They’re actually a traditional remedy for a wide range of health issues, including eye and heart health, preventing blood sugar imbalances and easing muscle and joint discomfort, to name a few. A few scientific studies suggest young luffas contain some unique antioxidants, cancer-fighting compounds, and anti-inflammatory compound, which may explain their long history as a traditional remedy. (8910)

Growing Luffas for Eating

Plant and grow luffas for eating just as you would if your primary aim was sponges, except you don’t have to rush to plant in the spring. Why? You can expect to harvest your first tender gourds in as little as 45 to 60 days. But why choose? Many gardeners allow the first few fruits on each vine to stay on the vine to grow into sponges and clip off all the subsequent gourds as they get to ideal eating size, a rather nice case of having your cake and eating it, too.

Harvesting Luffas for Eating

Use a sharp knife or hand pruner to cut the stem between the vine and the young luffa gourd. Harvest while they are still tender (you should be able to pierce the skin easily with a finger nail). For most types, this happens when the veggies are about 5 inches long or less. Use them in any recipe for summer salad.

Final Thoughts on Growing a Loofah Sponge 

  • Loofah sponges are popular natural exfoliators that come from a vining plant.
  • Also known as sponge gourd, loofa or luffa, you can grow this plant at home by seed.
  • You can also eat luffas, but you wouldn’t eat a fully dried out luffa. Those, you clean and use as “sponges” for cleaning and exfoliating.
  • Be sure to wash your loofah sponge regularly in high heat, dry in a non-humid environment and disinfect regularly to avoid contamination.
  • Replace loofahs every three to four weeks. You can compost them.
What is Chronic Stress?

IV Therapy and Specialty Lab  supports and referrals 

IV Therapy and Specialty Lab  supports and referrals


  • IV Therapies
  • Specialty Lab Services (allergy, cancer, hormones, toxicity and more)
  • Genetic Testing
  • Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT)

NIHA offers on-site a number of speciality procedures including IV therapies and collects specimens for a wide variety of traditional and national speciality laboratories. Functional lab testing helps your physician to identify the underlying cause of symptoms in order to diagnose and treat you more effectively. Routine testing may include blood counts and chemistries while speciality labs make kits available that can provide more complex analysis with genetic markers, chronic illnesses and cellular functions. Testing may also include saliva, hair, or urinalysis specimens.

Health recovery requires a strong immune system and a body cleared of pollutants and infections. Many intravenous, or IV treatments available on-site are your physician’s option to boost the immune system, detoxify harmful metals and chemicals from the body and replenish essential nutrients for the body. These services are provided in a comfortable and nurturing environment so you can rest as you receive your treatments.

IV Therapies

What is Intravenous Therapy (IV) and why is it used?  
Intravenous therapy (IV) involves giving a nutritional or therapeutic substance directly into a vein in an arm that will quickly enter the circulatory system. Intravenous administration provides a quick, direct and effective method for the body to absorb and utilize therapeutic substances. In some cases when the digestive tract is not properly absorbing nutrients, an IV solution will deliver the needed nutrients, and nutrients can be tolerated at levels thought by the integrative medical community to have therapeutic effects. These therapies can be formulated for specific health challenges, mobilize nutrients into cells by means of a high concentration gradient, and deliver higher doses than by mouth without intestinal irritation or limited absorption due to gastrointestinal disorders.

IV treatments:

  • Deliver substances more quickly and more effectively to the body than can oral solutions
  • Correct nutritional and biochemical deficiencies
  • Boost immune function
  • Detoxify and reduce inflammation

What conditions may benefit from IV Therapy?

Addictions Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/Fibromyalgia
Angina Cold and flu
Allergies Headache/muscle spasms
Asthma Infectious and viral diseases
Autoimmune disease Low energy and fatigue
Anxiety and depression Lyme Disease, where appropriate
Cancer Migraine
Cardiovascular diseases Neurological disease

Are these treatments safe? Are there side effects? 
Practitioners have been using many of these treatments for many years; your safety is a priority and every effort will be made to ensure your safety. Like any treatment, nutritional and other therapeutic IV’s carry some risk.*  Your physician will help you consider the risks and benefits of therapy. It is important to inform your physician of any possible allergies you may have prior to your treatment. Being well hydrated and having a stable glucose level will definitely make the treatment more comfortable. Side effects remain infrequent. All patients are continuously monitored by the Lab staff while getting treatments to provide a safe and comfortable experience.

Nutritional and some of the other therapeutic IVs listed here are not widely practised as part of conventional medicine, but have become a fairly widespread practice among physicians who practice integrative medicine.  Integrative physicians, who incorporate functional, complementary or alternative medical (CAM) approaches into practice, have found that many patients respond well to these IVs. This view is supported by a substantial body of clinical literature and many of these therapies are routinely taught in continuing medical education courses for integrative physicians. The body of evidence for some of these therapies, however, may not be considered sufficiently rigorous by mainstream medical institutions to support the widespread adoption of these practices.



Nutritional IVs use vitamins, minerals and other nutrients that are administered directly into the vein. The IV use of nutrients bypasses the gastrointestinal tract (GI) to avoid GI side effects and gain quick absorption.

Type of IV Application
Vitamin & Mineral Nutrient deficient diet, malabsorption issues, diarrhoea and fluid loss, nutrient replacement; boosts the immune system. The treatment combines 15 ingredients in the fluid including Vitamins B and C along with minerals such as potassium and zinc.
Vitamin C Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant and promotes healing. It is more effective to take intravenously if one is ill and needs a higher dose. Adjunctive treatment for cancer; ideal for toxicity, hepatitis, mononucleosis and other chronic viruses, fatigue and weakness; immune system problems.
Myers Cocktail Acute asthma attacks, migraines, fatigue, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, fibromyalgia, acute muscle spasm, upper respiratory infection, sinusitis, seasonal allergic rhinitis, adrenal support; causes immediate relaxation and release of anxiety. Depending on the doctor’s order, treatment may include 8-16 vitamins and minerals including B5, B6, vitamin C, folic acid, potassium, zinc, taurine and selenium.
Magnesium & B Vitamin Fatigue, fibromyalgia, migraine, muscle spasm, addiction, PMS, and PTSD symptoms. Patients with these conditions and symptoms are often depleted in these vitamins.
Amino Acids Specialty lab testing may indicate the need to provide essential amino acids for the body to support brain and organ functions.
Glutathione plays a key role in detoxification in the body and for and effective immune response. Plays a critical role in the development of an effective immune response when there is a need for higher concentrations of antioxidants.



Certain medical conditions, lab work results and patient needs may benefit from practitioners ordering IVs designed to help fight infections, remove toxins or boost the immune system.

Type of IV Application
Antibiotics IV administration of antibiotics is available as needed for the clinical condition of the patient.
Hydrogen Peroxide Used for antiviral, antifungal and antibacterial conditions.
Sodium EDTA/Calcium EDTA Prevents and reduces cholesterol deposits; removes calcium from atherosclerotic plaques; eliminates heavy metal toxicity; makes arterial walls more flexible. Read more

Specialty Lab Services

The hallmark of an integrative approach to healthcare is the determination to identify root causes of illness and seek treatments that go beyond symptom relief.  This requires a sophisticated array of tests for blood, urine and another sampling that can provide the diagnostic capacity to “drill down” and evaluate multiple factors simultaneously. NIHA makes a wide array of national lab testing available, and provide numerous speciality blood, urine and other kits, with skilled phlebotomists available to draw, prepare and ship specimens to the numerous labs our practitioners utilize. Additionally, NIHA offers its patients the convenience of having a LabCorp in-house blood draw station.

Are foods making you sick, tired or fatigued? Allergy tests can identify your sensitivities to foods and additives that may trigger potentially harmful immune reactions.

Cortisol, DHEA, estrogen, progesterone and testosterone are some of the key hormones that regulate our physiology and behaviour. Specialty labs can identify specific levels of hormones using both blood and saliva.

NIHA works with many different laboratories to identify metabolic imbalances that may contribute to underlying chronic conditions. Testing may include core nutrients, antioxidants, B vitamins, digestive support, essential fatty acids, amino acids and minerals. Numerous tests are also available for celiac and gluten sensitivities.

NIHA works with laboratories that perform state-of-the-art clinical and research testing for Lyme Disease and co-infections or associated tick-borne diseases, among other infectious agents.

We can become sick after acute or chronic exposure to toxins in our food, homes, outdoors and/or in the personal products we use. Mold, heavy metals (such as mercury) and air pollution are but a few toxins that can make us sick, or prevent us from healing. NIHA physicians offer blood testing to identify a multitude of possible toxins.

NIHA works with speciality cancer laboratories that perform some of the newest testings for cancer markers (monitoring) along with cancer diagnostic testing.


Genetic Tests

These genetic tests identify changes in chromosomes, genes or proteins. Genes called SNPs can create vulnerabilities to many kinds of allergic, infectious, immune, toxic, nutritional and psycho-emotional stress. Getting to the genetic root cause provides important data to prevent and treat chronic medical conditions and psychiatric disorders. NIHA offers speciality kits from national labs that will confirm or rule out suspected genetic conditions and risk factors. Examples of these tests include MTHFR (methylation pathways), BRAC 1/BRAC2 (breast cancer), and Pharmacogenetic Testing (PGx), for your unique genetic response to medication.

Pharmacogenetic Testing (PGx)  – Find the right medication for you

We highly recommend for all patients a genetic test that analyzes how your genetic makeup affects your response to medication. This test is called Pharmacogenetics, or PGx. This test is an important step toward personalized medicine. It will determine your medication sensitivity and reduce the chance of a possible adverse drug reaction.

By testing only a dozen genes, we can determine which medications are right for you. If you have SNPs (single nucleotide polymorphisms) which break down a medication too quickly, it will not work. On the other hand, SNPs which metabolize a medication too slowly can cause it to build up to very high levels in your body and cause severe adverse reactions or even death. Medication mortality rates from adverse drug reactions (ADRs) are between the 2nd to 4th leading cause of death, ahead of pulmonary disease, diabetes, AIDS, pneumonia, accidents and automobile deaths, depending on the research one beliefs. PGx is generally insurance covered.

Why are we testing?
In many patients, certain drugs/medications don’t work as well as expected, while in other patients they cause toxic effects, even at a lower dosage. The reason may be genetic.
How well your body metabolizes medication is an important consideration in prescribing medication and the chances of a positive outcome. With PGx testing, you will know which ones you may have a sensitivity to, and the practitioner will be able to determine the right medication for you, and the right dose.


Cancer genomics- Cancer risk for common cancers

Cancer genomic tests for SNPs, which create risks for 8 common types of cancer by assessing 41 SNPs, and is often insurance covered. If you have a family history of cancer this important test can assess risk and suggest that more frequent early detection radiology and bloodwork should be performed to catch cancer at its earliest development when it is more easily treated. Also, by knowing the exact SNPs which put you at risk for cancer, certain nutritional supplements and lifestyle changes may alter gene expression and decrease risk.

Cardiogenomics- Heart disease and risk factors

These panels can assess for various kinds of heart disease and risk factors for cardiovascular diseases, such as hypertension. The proper drug to reduce risk based on these genetic factors can be chosen, and nutritional and lifestyle interventions can be adopted which match your genetic makeup so that the risk of various kinds of heart disease can be negated.

Alpha -1- Genetic test for Antitrypsin (AAT)

This is the test for AAT deficiency which can cause emphysema and liver disease, even when lifestyle risks are not occurring, such as alcohol or tobacco abuse. Adults with emphysema, COPD, asthma, poor lung function or risk factors (smoking, occupational exposure, etc.) may wish to be tested. This test involves a finger stick blood sample.

23 and me – Ancestry genealogy

23andMe is recommended for every patient, but it is a consumer test that you do on your own (we can’t order it for you). Go online to and order the kit ($199). It will arrive by email. Follow instructions for saliva collection, mailing and registering the test online. The 23 and my information will suggest that this test is only for ancestry genealogy, but for an additional $30, we will show you how to convert the raw data link into a few hundred genomic SNPs. Important information on neurotransmitter-related genes for psychiatric vulnerabilities and addictions and many other problems can be revealed by this test.

MTHFR  Test – Methylation and detoxification issues

MTHFR enzyme(methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase) blood test is used to detect two relatively common mutations in the MTHFR gene that are associated with elevated levels of homocysteine in the blood. Those with the mutation may have trouble with methylation and eliminating toxins from the body.

Related Information:

Methylation 101: What it Means for Your Health

Methylation 102: A Deeper Look at the MTHFR Gene 

Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT)

Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) is a medical treatment in which a patient breathes 100% oxygen in a total body chamber. These soft chambers provide low atmosphere, hyperbaric pressure. While the use of HBOT for wound healing, certain tissue infections, burns and other conditions is well-recognized, integrative medicine views HBOT as useful to promote healing in the brain or tissue, improve cognitive function or as adjunctive therapy for stroke or many other conditions.
Read more



IV Therapy and Specialty Lab Services are available Monday-Friday from 8:30AM-5:30 PM

Appointments are necessary. Once the physician has ordered your speciality lab kits or IV’s, please call 202-237-7000, ext. 145 or 110 to schedule an appointment.
Adverse reactions such as discomfort, swelling and bruising at the injection site, inflammation of the vein, dizziness, feeling faint, or decreased blood sugar or blood pressure during or following some types of treatment. These side effects are generally temporary and resolve quickly if they occur. There is also a low risk of infection, and while rare, particularly when using nutraceutical products, any infusion into the body has some risk of allergic reaction which can either cause symptoms at the site of the infusion or systemic problems that in very rare cases can be serious.


Research via the web by Renu Marley’s Team for reading and understanding purpose only.