Naomi Whittel is the former CEO of Twinlab and has written an interesting book about how to achieve radiant health by activating your body's natural autophagy processes. In "Glow 15: A Science-Based Plan to Lose Weight, Revitalize Your Skin, and Invigorate Your Life," she shares a number of valuable strategies for doing this naturally. Her deep-rooted interest in healthy living was an outgrowth of her lifelong struggle with eczema, an autoimmune deficiency.
"The inflammatory process just ravaged my body," she says. "My skin would bleed, it would pus. My parents were so conscious, they would even be aware of the kinds of material I would wear because our skin needs to breathe — it's our largest organ — and the foods that I ate. I was born on a biodynamic farm, and yet this autoimmune disorder and so many [other health problems] that I developed over time controlled my life.
So, I have always been trained to eat specific foods and drink certain types of water. My parents never let me have fluoridated water. I was never vaccinated. So much thought went into what I was putting on and into my body, and yet I couldn't squelch the inflammation. When I was in my midteens, I would constantly cover myself with long sleeves, kind of like what I'm doing today. But it wasn't for the same reasons.
I would cover myself because I was so ashamed of what I really looked like. It was the spring dance, and there was a boy that I really wanted to go to the spring dance with. My mother said to me at that time, 'You know, you shouldn't always cover yourself.
You have a lot of friends. You can have some more self-confidence.' I listened to her, and I wore short sleeves and shorts. My skin was exposed, and he got a glimpse of me, and he didn't invite me. That was a defining moment, because I had been so rejected by the way I looked."
From Natural to Conventional and Back
Following that spring dance rejection, Whittel decided to try the conventional route for a change. For a time, she used steroids to control her eczema, but the side effects prompted her to return to her all-natural roots. In her early 20s, she was able to eliminate about 95 percent of her eczema using a combination of Chinese herbs, acupuncture and fasting to detox.
Alas, when she was preparing for pregnancy a few years later, she discovered she had heavy metal toxicity, which her doctor attributed to the Chinese herbs she had taken, due to the soil they were grown in and the way they were processed.
"I had poisoned my body through these herbs that had been so therapeutic," she says. "That was the other defining moment for me. I decided I needed to know, from that moment forward, exactly where things came from. So, I started the process of always going to the source … Ultimately, I built a company called Reserveage, where we aimed to find where things come from.
I started with the polyphenols, the antioxidants, that come from the red wine grape, and I searched all over the world for the grapes that had the highest levels of these different polyphenols, including resveratrol … I ultimately landed in Bordeaux, where the organic and biodynamic vineyards are so rich in these powerful nutrients.
I was in Calabria, Italy, when I first started to really learn about the citrus bergamot fruit. The researchers over there were teaching me about drinking whole citrus bergamot tea. The lead researcher, Dr. Elzbieta Janda, was drinking four or five cups of this every day, and while I was there, I was doing that with her. I asked her, 'Why?' … She said to me, 'I use it to activate my autophagy.' That was the first time I had heard the word."
"Auto" in Greek means "self," and "phagy" means "to eat," so autophagy refers to a self-eating process in which your body digests damaged cells. It's basically a cleaning-out process that encourages the proliferation of new, healthy cells. Reserveage, which was later sold to Twinlab, was founded on the principle that each and every ingredient is carefully sourced and processed in such a way to ensure the highest quality and purity possible.
This includes doing soil testing and working with the farmers and middlemen to understand and clean up each step of the process from farm to bottle. Unfortunately, few companies actually invest the time and resources necessary to do this. "It surprises me, because it's a disconnect," Whittel says. "Ultimately, there's so many things that can go wrong along the way."
Fish Oil's Dirty Little Secret
Whittel recently worked with Jeff Bland, Ph.D., on a trip to Alaska to investigate the manufacturing of cod liver oil. "For me personally, fish oil is an important part of my health. Because of my autoimmune disorders, I grew up drinking a little shot every morning of cod liver oil … But when I built my company, Reserveage, I never could find a source other than krill, that I was comfortable bringing out into the market," she says. What's the problem with most fish oil? Whittel explains:
"What happens is the fish are caught in large nets. Even if you think the fish oil is coming from Norway or Europe, it's caught in Central and South America in these large nets. The fish are then brought onto and thrown into the bottom of the boat … [where] they go completely rancid. They're just left there. By the time they get to Europe, the guts are so rancid that in order to get the omega-3s out, they have to go through a process of extracting these poisons and this rancidity.
[In the end], you're left with something that has none of the cofactors. It's been so heavily contaminated to clean out the rancidity that if you want to get any of the benefits of the vitamin A or vitamin D, they have to be added back. So, there's a huge disconnect … When I learned about this, it just ruined my relationship to fish oils."