How to Reduce Zika Virus Risk Naturally

Holli Lapes, RD, LD/N

Today’s blog post will discuss some natural ways to stay safe from mosquitoes whether you are
traveling or at home. There is currently an active outbreak of the Zika virus in North America. At this time, there are no treatments or vaccines available.

The Zika virus is a member of the virus family Flaviviridae and is related to the yellow fever and West Nile viruses. The name originates from the Zika Forest of Uganda, where the virus was first isolated in the 1940’s.

The current outbreak was first detected in Brazil in 2015. Zika is spread by Aedes mosquitoes, such as A. aegypti and A. albopictus. These Zika-carrying mosquitoes bite people primarily during daytime hours, as that is when they are most active, but they can also bite at night. These mosquitoes thrive in tropical regions such as Puerto Rico and have been detected in Florida.1

Reports of the Zika virus are increasing in the South Florida area with infected individuals in Miami, Broward, and Palm Beach Counties. The majority of infected individuals will have no symptoms but may experience fever, rash, joint pain, and red eyes. Another complication of the virus is Guillain-Barre syndrome.1 Pregnant women, woman interested in becoming pregnant, and their spouses, should be especially cautious during the outbreak, due to the birth defects that the virus can cause.1

Natural Repellents

When it comes to bug spray, DEET may come to mind. It’s touted as being the gold standard because of its effectiveness and long-lasting qualities.2,3 Many people have reservations when it comes to the use of DEET because it’s not eco-friendly and has a questionable safety record for human use.3 Despite these concerns, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) concludes that DEET is generally safer than many people assume.4

Oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE) or PMD (chemical name: para-menthane-3,8-diol), the synthesized version of OLE has been shown to be an effective repellent. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO) recommend OLE as a safe and effective alternative to DEET. The caveat is that “pure” oil of lemon eucalyptus is not recommended by these agencies. 2,4

Essential oils that are put directly on the skin may cause irritation, especially in the presence of sunlight.5 Additionally, essential oils tend to be highly volatile and thus can evaporate quickly, which is limiting for continued support / duration of use.3,5 In contrast, synthetic repellents have a low rate of vaporization. 3

There are some strategies to limit the rate of evaporation of essential oils, including the use of vanillin, salicylic acid and coconut oil which may help to promote long lasting repellency against mosquitoes.3 Vanillin seems to be one of the best ways to increase the efficacy of these oils, as it is mentioned in several studies.3, 5, 6, 7 Essential oils including litsea, rosewood, and geranium have shown efficacy as a repellent against A. aegypti female mosquitoes.3 Unfortunately, the A. aegypti mosquito is one of the most resistant to repellents.8

Plants That Deter Pests

So, how do you keep things at bay in your neighborhood?

Aerial spraying is being done in parts of Florida and can be requested by residents in Broward County which has a website where you can fill out a ‘mosquito spray request form.9 Although some are more concerned about pesticides then they are about the virus.

There are some natural strategies to safeguard your home by creating a landscape of herbs and plants that deter pests because of their aroma and other factors. This can help minimize the chances that mosquitoes will lay eggs.

Citronella has been one of the most widely used natural repellents, but there is controversy as to its effectiveness.3,5 You can plant citronella around your home as well as lemon grass and catnip.3, 5, 10, 11, 12

Always wanted an herb garden? Now would be a good time to have one! Herbs such as rosemary, peppermint, and basil may be of help. 13,14

Other protective strategies for safeguarding yourself and your home: make sure there is no standing water — even a small amount (a few ounces) can encourage mosquitoes to reproduce. Wear tight-fitting clothing in order to minimize access to the mosquitoes.1

Manage Viral Invaders

Zika is an RNA virus and RNA viruses generally have very high mutation rates compared to DNA viruses. Other RNA viruses include the influenza virus and hepatitis C. 15, 16 You’ll want to keep your immune system strong during a viral outbreak by choosing some key nutrients.

Lactoferrin has been shown to inhibit viral infections by interfering with the ability of the viruses to bind to cell receptor sites and prevents entry of viruses into host cells. 17

EGCG in Green Tea has shown impressive results against the influenza virus by suppressing viral RNA synthesis.18

Reishi mushroom extract has been shown to support Natural Killer cells, which are responsible for destroying cells that are infected by viruses. This medicinal mushroom can also help to fight off viral infections. 19


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The Health Power of Artichoke

Artichokes offer a variety of health benefits including digestive and cardiovascular health effects.

They can also help protect our cells by way of their strong antioxidant capacity.

With digestive concerns, heart disease, and chronic, low-grade inflammation affecting so many of us these days, this post will highlight the research breakthroughs in these areas.

Artichokes Pack a Healthy Punch

Artichokes (Cynara scolymus) are a member of the thistle family and have a strong history of therapeutic effects on the liver which have been well known since the 17th century.1 Cynara scolymus, also known as Globe artichokes, are one of the most ancient plants grown in the world, and its extracts are obtained from different parts of the plant (leaves, fruits and roots).

Globe artichokes have been ranked among the top 100 richest food sources of polyphenols.2 Their leaves contain the polyphenolic compounds apigenin, luteolin, quercetin, rutin, chlorogenic acid, caffeic acid, hesperitin, and more.3

In cultured rat liver cells exposed to a compound that induces lipid peroxidation (a type of cell damage), artichoke extract added prior to administration of the compound lowered levels of malondialdehyde (MDA, a marker of oxidative stress) and cell toxicity while preventing the loss of intracellular glutathione, an antioxidant.4 Further experimentation uncovered an association between lower MDA production and caffeic acid, chlorogenic acid, and other artichoke constituents.

Artichokes Support Healthy Digestion

A double-blind crossover study found an increase in bile secretion subsequent to the administration of an artichoke extract, indicating that the extract could be helpful for indigestion, particularly when this is attributable to bile duct dysfunction.5

A review published in Phytomedicine noted that artichoke leaf extracts had antioxidant, liver-protective, and bile-stimulating properties, in addition to reducing low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol oxidation and cholesterol synthesis—the latter of which is attributed to artichoke leaf's luteolin content.6

This is key because oxidation of LDL is one of the first steps in the development of vascular inflammation and the initiation of vulnerable plaque development. Clinical trial participants were observed to have experienced a decrease in lipids as well as digestive effects that include reductions in nausea and intestinal gas, along with a low incidence of side effects.

An open study of 454 subjects with dyspepsia (painful or impaired digestion) found an average decrease of 40% in dyspepsia scores as well as improvement in health-related quality of life after two months among those given 320 milligrams (mg) or 640 mg artichoke leaf extract daily.

A randomized, double-blind trial of 247 functional dyspepsia patients resulted in significantly greater symptom improvement and global quality of life scores over six weeks of treatment in association with artichoke leaf extract in comparison with a placebo.8

Other research has uncovered a benefit for artichoke leaf extract in irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a condition that affects an estimated 22% of the population.9 In a study of IBS patients, 96% rated artichoke leaf as better or equivalent to previously used therapies for the condition.

Another study that involved 208 adults with IBS who were also suffering from dyspepsia found a 26.4% decline in IBS incidence and a 20% improvement in quality of life scores following treatment with artichoke leaf extract.10

Artichokes Support Heart Health

A clinical trial in which participants received 1,800 milligrams of artichoke extract powder or a placebo daily for six weeks resulted in a reduction in total cholesterol among those who received the artichoke that was more than twice of that experienced by the placebo group and an even greater reduction in LDL cholesterol, suggesting a benefit for those with elevated lipids or heart disease.11 

In 18 patients with moderately elevated lipids and/or triglycerides, markers of endothelial dysfunction and brachial artery flow-mediated vasodilation improved in those given artichoke juice, indicating better endothelial function.12 Another randomized trial conducted on artichoke leaf juice resulted in significant reductions in systolic and diastolic blood pressure after 12 weeks in participants with mild hypertension compared to values measured in a placebo group.13

If you find purchasing, cooking, and eating fresh artichokes too troublesome, you'll be glad to learn that artichoke leaf supplements are readily available. Canned or bottled artichoke hearts are also a convenient and tasty addition to salads, casseroles, and other dishes.


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How To Go Gluten Free in 5 Steps

Holli Lapes, RD, LD/N

In recent years, going gluten-free has become trendy and is even used as a marketing tactic in the food industry.

While it is true that gluten could just be another buzz word in some contexts, there are certainly valid health reasons to avoid gluten, including celiac disease.

One of the main reasons people should avoid gluten, aside from celiac disease, is if they have gluten sensitivity. 1

This article is for people who are ready to initiate a gluten-free diet. Still need to learn more about gluten? Check out our article from yesterday: Gluten FAQ.

1. Become familiar with which grains are gluten-free and which are not

Gluten-containing grains include wheat, rye, barley, malt, spelt and kamut.2,3 Also, there could be some cross contamination with other grains such as oats, unless otherwise marked as gluten free.

Others that you will want to avoid: bulgur, couscous, durum, matzah, semolina, triticale.4 Triticale is an example of a cross hybrid, made from wheat and rye.4 Gluten free grains include millet, oats, quinoa (technically a seed), rice, wild rice, sorghum and teff.

2. Rid your kitchen of any gluten and prepare to restock with the staples

Missed spring cleaning this year? That’s okay. Here is your opportunity to finally sort through your stock. You’ll want to discard the obvious items such as wheat flour but also practice your label reading (this will help you during step 4, too!).

Be wary of hidden gluten; check your fridge, cabinets and pantry for items that you wouldn’t think have gluten or gluten-derived ingredients, but do. For example, the first ingredient in soy sauce is usually wheat! Check any packaged and processed items such as snacks, cereals, sauces and salad dressing.

3. Find 2 weeks’ worth of gluten-free recipes and make a shopping list

There are tons of recipes online at your disposal both online and in cookbooks. Use this as an opportunity to try some new foods!

Always wondered what quinoa tastes like? Here is your chance to incorporate this nutrient-rich, grain-like food into your diet. A gluten-free diet doesn’t have to be a starch-free or grain-free diet.

Corn and potatoes are starchy vegetables that can help you satisfy that desire. Meats, legumes, fruits and vegetables in their whole food state will naturally be free of gluten. Maybe a GF diet will even help you meet your 5-7 serving of fruit and vegetables daily!

4. Shop to restock your staples and get the ingredients for your recipes

Depending on where you live, you may find that your neighborhood grocery store has a gluten-free section. If not, consider going to specialty stores or ordering online. You’ll soon become familiar with gluten-free brands.

Be forewarned that some packaged gluten-free products like waffles, pasta and crackers may not taste the same as the gluten-containing foods you are used to. They will likely even have a different texture. It may be a process of trial and error but in time, after trying a few variations perhaps, you will have your go-to gluten free waffles. Or, of course, you can make your own!

It can be a challenge finding gluten-free bread, they might be in the frozen section. Be ready to get creative — a sandwich using gluten-free pancakes as the bread, anyone? GF crackers make a nice complement to deli meat and provide that starchy element you may be used to.

5. Master a gluten-free lifestyle outside of your home

Now that your home is a gluten-free safe haven, you’ll need to find ways to stay committed when going out. A starting-off point is raising awareness to those closest to you. Your family and friends may not understand until you explain it to them.

Keep in mind that some may be more understanding than others. Focus on the positives rather than the restrictive aspect, let them know how much better you feel or will feel. Eating out has become much easier now that more and more restaurants are recognizing the need to have a GF menu or section of their menu.

As an added precaution; let the wait staff know that you have an allergy, as the term sensitivity may not resonate the same way. Do your research, check the menu online or call ahead before committing to a location.


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Top 5 Questions About Gluten Answered

Holli Lapes, RD, LD/N

In recent years, going gluten free has become trendy and is even used as a marketing tactic in the food industry.

When people see gluten free on a label, assumptions are often made. One may say to themselves “Well, if this is gluten free, then gluten must be bad.” Or, maybe all of their friends at the gym are going gluten free.

While it is true that gluten could just be another buzz word in some contexts, there are certainly valid health reasons to avoid gluten other than having celiac disease.

What Is Gluten?

Gluten is a mixture of proteins that act as a binding agent, helping foods to maintain their shape and contributing to the texture that we all know and love.

As the Latin translation indicates, gluten is the “glue” that gives your bagel just the right balance of stickiness and elasticity.1

Gluten is Found in Wheat, Right?

Despite the common misconception, gluten and wheat are not synonymous terms. Gluten-containing grains include wheat, rye, barley, malt, spelt and kamut.2,3

Also, there could be some cross contamination with other grains such as oats unless otherwise marked as gluten free.

Is Gluten Bad?

People avoid gluten for a variety of reasons. In the past, those who have fully avoided gluten-containing food and drink have done so because of celiac disease. Characterized by an autoimmune response (not an allergy), celiac disease patients experience destruction of the microvilli in the small intestine when gluten is consumed.4

Since the microvilli are essential for nutrient absorption, this can lead to problematic vitamin and mineral deficiencies and an array of adverse health effects that are both digestion and non-digestion related.5,6 There are also other instances where gluten would be considered bad for someone (below).

I Don’t Have Celiac Disease, Should I Avoid Gluten?

One of the main reasons people should avoid gluten, other than if they have celiac disease, is if they have gluten sensitivity. People with non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) may or may not have to avoid gluten for the rest of their life, depending on various factors, while those with celiac disease must follow a strict lifetime avoidance of gluten.

Do you have unexplained fatigue and mental cloudiness, a.k.a. “brain fog”? It might be due to gluten sensitivity. Other symptoms include weight gain, abdominal discomfort, skin and digestive issues.7 A non-allergic delayed immune response characterized by IgG antibodies to wheat, gluten, or gliadin may be present in people with NCGS who take a food sensitivity blood test.8

Whether or not someone who suspects a gluten sensitivity has these biomarkers, one way to find out if gluten is the culprit is to just avoid gluten and see if you feel better! Currently, the gold standard test is double-blind challenge with gluten-containing food.8,9 Individuals with NCGS may also benefit from following the FODMAP diet.9,10

Other reasons one might end up avoiding gluten: leaky gut, wheat allergy, existing autoimmune condition, ketogenic diet, paleo diet.

What Are the Downfalls of Avoiding Gluten?

Compliance to a gluten-free diet can be very challenging, especially for people who follow certain lifestyles that include eating out often. Gluten is hidden in a variety of packaged and processed foods.

People who suffer from celiac disease must comply, because even the smallest quantities (parts per billion) can cause distress. In comparison, their gluten-sensitive counterparts may not be as compliant because the consequences, while uncomfortable, may not be as severe.

When it comes to nutrient deficiencies, for those with NCGS wherein intestinal absorption is not impaired (no villus atrophy) the issue stems from the consumption of non-fortified gluten-free foods.11,12 One common deficiency related to this is lack of B-vitamins.11,13 Simply taking a high potency B-complex would help ensure an adequate B vitamin intake!

Ok, so are you ready to go gluten free?

Check back on the blog tomorrow for tips and strategies to successfully live a gluten-free lifestyle!


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5 Health Benefits of Chlorophyllin

Chlorophyll is the pigment synthesized with the use of sunlight by plants, and which gives them their green color. Anytime you eat green vegetables, you're consuming chlorophyll.

A similar compound, chlorophyllin is a water-soluble derivative of chlorophyll that is often included in nutritional supplements due to its greater stability in comparison with naturally occurring chlorophyll.

A review published in 2015 noted, "Chlorophyllin has been shown to exhibit potent antigenotoxic, anti-oxidant, and anticancer effects."1

Let’s explore the [green] magic of chlorophyllin.

Chlorophyllin Targets Toxins

Preventing genetic mutations caused by various toxins is one of chlorophyll's as well as chlorophyllin's best-known functions, aside from their essentiality to the plant kingdom.2 Both chlorophyll and chlorophyllin form complexes with certain types of mutagens to block their activity.3

A mutagen is an agent, such as radiation or a chemical substance, that causes mutations in the DNA.

Some of the earliest published research evaluating the effects of chlorophyllin involved tests of mixtures of different potential mutagens in a strain of Salmonella bacteria. The research found that chlorophyllin inhibited 90% to 100% of the mutagenicity of eight out of ten mixtures of extracts that included fried beef, cigarette smoke, chewing tobacco, airborne particles, coal dust, and diesel emission particles4.

In human white blood cells known as lymphocytes, chlorophyllin inhibited free radicals and protected DNA from damage induced by two mycotoxins produced by fungal food contaminants.5

Chlorophyllin has also been demonstrated to reduce biomarkers of the mycotoxin aflatoxin B(1) produced by Aspergillus mold. This toxin increases the risk of liver cancer in chronically exposed individuals.6 In human volunteers, chlorophyll as well as chlorophyllin limited ingested aflatoxin bioavailability .7

Chlorophyllin Protects Against Radiation

Chlorophyllin has also been shown to help prevent genetic damage caused by radiation.8

One study found that chlorophyllin was better able to protect against radiation in rat mitochondria than vitamin C and glutathione.9

Chlorophyllin Plays a Role in Cancer

In addition to cancer prevention, chlorophyllin could also play a role in the treatment of the disease. Research in a rodent model of forestomach carcinoma found that chlorophyllin inhibited the disease's development by decreasing transforming growth factor beta (TGFb) signaling, thereby blocking cell proliferation, angiogenesis (the formation of new blood vessels), invasion, and metastasis.10

Research involving a hamster model of cheek pouch carcinoma found an inhibition of angiogenesis associated with chlorophyllin supplementation that led the researchers to conclude that the compound is an attractive candidate for preventing tumor progression.11 Other research involving this model found an alteration of gene expression that was reversed by chlorophyllin.12

In human pancreatic cancer cell lines, chlorophyllin dose-dependently decreased proliferation while diminishing the generation of mitochondrial reactive oxygen species.13

In breast cancer cells, chlorophyllin was found to inhibit cell proliferation by deactivating extracellular signal-regulated kinases, a subfamily of mitogen-activated protein kinases involved in cell survival, proliferation, and differentiation.14

Chlorophyllin Fights Infections

Chlorophyllin also appears to act against certain microorganisms, including influenza
and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).15 

Investigation of chlorophyllin's mechanisms against Propionibacterium acnes, the bacterial culprit in acne, found a reduction in growth of the bacterium and a decrease in its inflammatory chemokine production.16

Chlorophyllin Neutralizes Odor

Interestingly, chlorophyllin and chlorophyll have been the subject of research over the past several decades concerning their ability to neutralize body odors! The compounds have been investigated for the control of urinary odor in catheterized patients and for the prevention of mouth odor,17 perspiration, intestinal gas, and fecal odor.18

If your intake of green vegetables is less than optimal, chlorophyllin supplementation is a convenient option with plenty of research to support it. Protect your DNA from the numerous threats encountered in our food supply and environment with the magic of green chlorophyll or chlorophyllin.


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  18. J Am Geriatr Soc. 1980 Jan;28(1):46-7.

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