Q&A with Dr. Jay Vanden Heuvel PhD, IMD, DHS

Dr. Jay Vanden Heuvel, Ph.D., IMD., DHS, is a highly educated scientist. He is board certified in Orthomolecular and Integrative Medicine, World Organization of Natural Medicine, and in Holistic Health. Jay recently was awarded the Order of Excellence in Integrative Medicine 2016 from the World Organization of Natural Medicine and University of Humanitarian Medicine Clinics for Humanity. He is a certified reflexologist and flower therapist.

Recently, we here at Natures Institute (NI) asked Dr. Jay to share his thoughts on how science is beginning to validate the power of herbs and natural ingredients.

NI: People have been using herbs for millennia, and they gained a lot of popularity in the 20th century and even into the 21st. But only recently has science begun demonstrating some of what herbs can do. Is it about time?

Dr. Jay: Yeah, it’s about time. Herbs are not new age, they are old age. It has even been estimated that up to 70% of all pharmaceuticals come from an herb in the first place! Even an old recognizable herb like garlic has been studied recently, and scientists have identified more than 50 phytochemicals in the bulb. These phytochemicals have been discovered to be as powerful as chemotherapy molecules. Garlic is NOT chemotherapy. It’s just interesting that nature has these molecules already in the herb. A recent and significant finding from Washington State University (published in the Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy – follow-up to the author’s previous research in Applied and Environmental Microbiology) conclusively demonstrated that garlic concentrate was effective in inhibiting the growth of C. jejuni bacteria. It shows that garlic is 100 times more effective than two popular antibiotics at fighting disease-causing bacteria commonly responsible for foodborne illness.

When garlic is crushed, a phytochemical known as ‘alliin becomes allicin. Research shows that allicin helps lower cholesterol and blood pressure and also helps prevents blood clots. Garlic can also help reduce the risk of developing atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries). Compounds in this familiar bulb can eliminate many organisms, including bacteria and viruses that cause earaches, flu, and colds. Research indicates that garlic is also effective against digestive ailments and diarrhea. What’s more, further studies suggest that this common herb may even help prevent the onset of some cellular abnormalities.

“This chemical has been known for a long time for its anti-bacterial and anti-fungal powers, says Helen Bond, a Derbyshire-based consultant dietitian and spokeswoman for the British Dietetic Association. “Because of this, people assume it is going to boost their immune systems. Lots of people are simply mashing up garlic, mixing it with olive oil and spreading it on bread. But how or whether it may actually work has still not been proven categorically.”

Easy to find studies often are lacking but are available online. Information like this Is not often communicated. As you can imagine, most pharmaceutical companies are not interested in running huge, expensive trials (as they are with promising new synthetic drug compounds) because there is nothing in garlic that they can patent. So, no need to tought it as a superior natural. But as most might have guessed, nature is already ahead of them in bio-actives.

I think the next generation of powerful drugs most likely will come from continuing studies of herbs like Garlic as companies search for ways to make new ones synthetically. Most of the corroborating science in the U.S. has only come about recently as researchers try to figure out new medications they can make from natures orthomolecular medicine.

So, who does the science on what nature already packaged? Well, most published studies come from supplement manufacturers themselves. They fund studies and look into whole parts of herbals and sometimes will originate nutraceuticals. Which are parts of the whole plant – isolated like Curcumin from Turmeric. These then can be made into proprietary blends and even patented. That being said, why not just use whole herbs on a daily basis to assist the body in dealing with a modern toxic environment in the first place? Anecdotal evidence and historical significance still trumps side effects of synthetics in non-lifethreating cases. Nature helped make them as a food, already safe, and without side effects. Whole herbs are more about side benefits!

Bottom line: Herbs are comprised of synergistic components working together as nature intended. It’s like a radio. There is no one component you can point to and say “that is the part that makes the radio work.” All parts are important. Remove one part of the radio and the whole radio does not work. Herbs are similar: all parts in the plant work together in the first place.

NI: Can you share some scientific breakthroughs/discoveries of the past few years that shed new or defining light on a few herbs or nutrients?

Dr. Jay: Fish oil

This nutrient has been controversial at times, but a recent study led by Liana Del Gobbo from the Stanford University School of Medicine did show value the right way. Researchers pooled evidence from 19 cohort studies (17 of which were prospective trials) from 16 countries to assess the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids on coronary heart disease. The pooled analysis included more than 45,000 individuals without prevalent coronary heart disease, and the researchers analyzed the correlation of circulating and tissue biomarkers of omega-3 status with the incidence of total coronary heart disease, fatal coronary heart disease and non-fatal myocardial infarction.

They found that each standard deviation increase in the individual levels of EPA, DHA and DPA (docosapentaenoic acid, another marine-derived omega-3 fatty acid) was associated with an approximately 9% lower risk of fatal coronary heart disease, while the sum of all three led to an 11% lower risk of fatal coronary heart disease. Furthermore, DPA levels (but not DHA or EPA levels) were associated with a significantly lower risk in the incidence of total coronary heart disease.

Vitamin K2

This little-known vitamin is gaining huge acceptance. Benefits include improving heart health. Katarzyna Maresz, Ph.D., (President – International Science and Health Foundation) expressed a study published online ahead of print in Thrombosis and Haemostasis. She stated that vitamin K2 is a game-changer when it comes to evidence supporting benefits, particularly in the field of cardiovascular health. “This is the first published study that shows that a ‘nutritional’ dose of vitamin K can actually improve cardiovascular properties, which correlates with improved status of vitamin K (i.e., a decreased level of dpucMGP) in the body.” (Thrombosis and Haemostasis 2015 May: 0340-6245, 2015 Feb 19).

Also Vitamin K2 helps build strong bones. Natto (the traditional Japanese dish made of fermented soybeans) is the most abundant source of vitamin K2 as menaquinone-7 (MK-7). Population-based studies have shown that in those regions of Japan where women consumed the most natto, they generally have shown low rates of fractures. More observational studies suggest that natto may dramatically reduce the risk of developing osteoporosis.

Until 2012, there had only been two one-year studies of K2 and bone status in healthy elderly people. These studies showed that K2 significantly improved the “switching on” of osteocalcin (also called OC carboxylation): strong evidence of bone health. I have been a big fan of natto enzymes (kinase) for years for circulatory benefits. I also love Krill Oil (omegas) with K2. Taken along with CoQ10, your heart and bones will thank you!


The ruby red fruit. Extremely nutrient-rich, pomegranates pack a mighty punch. This fruit contains a unique and powerful antioxidant called punicalagin. The most abundant antioxidant in pomegranate, it’s responsible for more than half of the antioxidant activity of pomegranate juice.

Pomegranate juice has been shown to have greater antioxidant capacity than red wine, grape juice, cranberry juice, acai juice, or green tea. Pomegranate measurably reduces oxidative stress (the toxic effects of free radicals) in healthy humans. Research has shown that pomegranate’s potent antioxidant capacity provides protection against heart disease, cancer and cognitive impairment.

This fruit has been studied extensively. And all studies show benefits in helping the body deal with cellular dysfunction (natural aromatase inhibitors, which is cutting-edge cancer research), improving the heart, and with memory and brain-boosting ability. Here are a few:

  1. Heber D: Pomegranate Ellagitannins. In Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects 2nd Edition. Edited by Benzie IFF, Wachtel-Galor, S.: CRC Press; 2011.
  2. Seeram NP, Aviram M, Zhang Y, et al: Comparison of antioxidant potency of commonly consumed polyphenol-rich beverages in the United States. J Agric Food Chem 2008, 56:1415-1422.
  3. Aviram M, Dornfeld L, Rosenblat M, et al: Pomegranate juice consumption reduces oxidative stress, atherogenic modifications to LDL, and platelet aggregation: studies in humans and in atherosclerotic apolipoprotein E-deficient mice. Am J Clin Nutr 2000, 71:1062-1076.
  4. Langley P: Why a pomegranate? BMJ 2000, 321:1153-1154.
  5. Wolf B: Pomegranates: Jewels in The Fruit Crown. 2006.
  6. Panchal SK, Ward L, Brown L: Ellagic acid attenuates high-carbohydrate, high-fat diet-induced metabolic syndrome in rats. Eur J Nutr 2012.
  7. Adams LS, Seeram NP, Aggarwal BB, et al: Pomegranate juice, total pomegranate ellagitannins, and punicalagin suppress inflammatory cell signaling in colon cancer cells. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 2006, 54:980-985.
  8. Khan N, Afaq F, Kweon MH, et al: Oral consumption of pomegranate fruit extract inhibits growth and progression of primary lung tumors in mice. Cancer Res 2007, 67:3475-3482.
  9. Toi M, Bando H, Ramachandran C, et al: Preliminary studies on the anti-angiogenic potential of pomegranate fractions in vitro and in vivo. Angiogenesis 2003, 6:121-128.
  10. Sartippour MR, Seeram NP, Rao JY, et al: Ellagitannin-rich pomegranate extract inhibits angiogenesis in prostate cancer in vitro and in vivo. Int J Oncol 2008, 32:475-480.
  11. Adams LS, Zhang Y, Seeram NP, et al: Pomegranate ellagitannin-derived compounds exhibit antiproliferative and antiaromatase activity in breast cancer cells in vitro. Cancer Prev Res (Phila2010, 3:108-113.
  12. Kroeger N, Belldegrun AS, Pantuck AJ: Pomegranate Extracts in the Management of Men’s Urologic Health: Scientific Rationale and Preclinical and Clinical Data. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med 2013, 2013:701434.
  13. Aviram M, Rosenblat M, Gaitini D, et al: Pomegranate juice consumption for 3 years by patients with carotid artery stenosis reduces common carotid intima-media thickness, blood pressure and LDL oxidation. Clin Nutr 2004, 23:423-433.
  14. Aviram M, Dornfeld L: Pomegranate juice consumption inhibits serum angiotensin converting enzyme activity and reduces systolic blood pressure. Atherosclerosis 2001, 158:195-198.
  15. Aviram M, Volkova N, Coleman R, et al: Pomegranate phenolics from the peels, arils, and flowers are antiatherogenic: studies in vivo in atherosclerotic apolipoprotein e-deficient (E 0) mice and in vitro in cultured macrophages and lipoproteins. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 2008, 56:1148-1157.
  16. Ropacki SA, Patel SM, Hartman RE: Pomegranate Supplementation Protects against Memory Dysfunction after Heart Surgery: A Pilot Study. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med 2013, 2013:932401.
  17. Bookheimer SY, Renner BA, Ekstrom A, et al: Pomegranate juice augments memory and FMRI activity in middle-aged and older adults with mild memory complaints. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med 2013, 2013:946298.

Turmeric and Curcumin
The industry’s hottest new herbal star. Recent studies show it helps knee osteoarthritis, metabolic syndrome, and cardiovascular risk. Curcumin, the complex extracted from the herb turmeric, is the basis of most ongoing studies to date. (Biomed Pharmacother2016;82:578–82 & J Diet Suppl. 2016; 13(2):209-20)

NI: Wow, that’s a lot of fantastic science about some amazing natural compounds. Does this kind of evidence help you and your success line share products? If so, how?

Dr. Jay: Research and substantiated studies provide credibility to supplements that we suggest or use on a daily basis. Even though we have known for centuries the value of nature’s medicine, it is powerful to have science validate that which we naturopaths have intuitively known.

I refer to these studies often to help allopathic physicians realize there is value in nutrition and supplementation. So often heard is “Where is the science on naturals?” As if they don’t know. It is done and out there but most allopaths are not reading them. So, they act sometimes like this information doesn’t exist. They can’t prescribe herbs anyway so why should they research it? Science and studies are critical in anyone who is teaching. It helps stop the critics from being critical. Consumers want to be aware of everything (especially facts about naturals). Science is our industry’s validator!

NI: Where do you look for this type of science/data? Can you share any good resource tips for the non-Ph.D. person?

Dr. Jay: I look at online studies but only from credible sources such as the ones I shared. I also constantly listen to webinars and attend conferences, conventions, and herbal summits where keynote speakers have the research to back up what they say, including me. My new favorite source of education, especially for those just starting out and even those who think they know it all, is www.naturesinstitute.com.

NI: Just out of curiosity, why do you think science is finally starting to catch up?

Dr. Jay: As new dietary ingredients are offered, they should have a scientific backing. This is critical not only for the benefits but for safety and quality.

I also think science in general can make huge leaps into understanding the human physiology by knowing why an herb works. I already mentioned garlic with over 50 different compounds that all need each other to work. Science helps break this down into what is known as orthomolecular medicine, meaning the right molecule for the body.

It has been said “Food is medicine, medicine can be food”. Research has led to the discovery of the human microbiome understanding today and how food interacts. Herbalists have known for years that “When all else fails, return to the guts.” Now science is showing us why: we ARE what our microbes eat! Knowing how herbals benefit humans and how they are changed and used by the microbiome is the new science! This is only about 18 years old and requires a whole new way to help understand the power of herbals and why man has relied on them for thousands of years. Well before any allopathic medicines ever showed up.

NI: Were we waiting for technology/equipment to catch up?

Dr. Jay: No, the technology has always been there. It is just that science is now “proving” why foods matter. Especially in relationship with our microbes (microbiome). I have known for 20 years paying attention to the gut was key. Science now gives us the “why”.

NI: Does anecdotal evidence support certain theories that researchers set out to prove or disprove?

Dr. Jay: Yes. Why is turmeric one of man’s most powerful spices? Massive research is being done on curcumin, and they are only now seeing that it helps with EVERYTHING! But they still don’t know why. It will take a few decades. Nature is so far ahead of us on what is medicine.

Even now something called CBD or cannabidiols are all the science. That is a powder keg about to explode in health benefits. We need science to help us understand these herbs for human benefit.

Sales of natural supplements outpaces prescription drugs in this country every year. Science can no longer ignore why so many people turn to natural remedies. So, they better get involved to prove or disprove hypothesis or theory. Again, it can also lead to the next best generation of pharmaceuticals. For now, I’ll stick with mother nature when appropriate.

NI: What about old-fashioned curiosity?

Dr. Jay: Curiosity has led to a better understanding of the human microbiome as I mentioned. It is helping us understand that these microbes are controlling our immunity and even our brains. If that doesn’t make you curious, nothing will!

The next generation of medicine will encompass microbes to assist us in delivering life-saving medicines and even diagnosis. For now, care for your digestive tract is in our hands (naturopaths).

NI: Anything else you want to share?

Dr. Jay: I would love to see future additions of gemmotherapy, homeopathy, additional flower therapy as well. Not just one thing. We need to have bigger offerings, to not just the body, but the cell itself. Also, to help balance the emotions, mind, and soul. Our health is multi-dimensional. The future is so bright, I gotta wear shades!