Collier and Lee Counties Edition
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Women’s Health Issues

Local Practitioners Discuss Causes and Natural Solutions

To Zorayda Torres, M.D., owner of Upstream Medical Consults, in Bonita Springs, women’s health issues such as heart disease, depression, Alzheimer’s, autoimmune disorders and cancer all have hidden origins. “It’s necessary to look for the underlying causes in order to reduce progression or maybe reverse the process. Many of the causes are common among these diseases. Frequently, there’s a combination of multiple things causing chronic inflammation and hormone disturbances. Examples are subtle infections, toxins, metabolic disturbances due to poor diet and nutritional deficiencies, allergies and sensitivities, high stress and unhealthy lifestyles. Genetics also play a role, as some women are immunologically predisposed to chronic inflammation from certain triggers,” says Torres.

Dr. Zorayda Torres“No matter what chronic disease or diagnosis, it’s essential to dig deep for clues in a woman’s history and laboratory tests to truly help her,” explains the board-certified internal medicine specialist whose perspective reflects that of Southwest Florida’s top functional medicine practitioners.


Pamela Hughes, DO, owner of Hughes Center for Functional Medicine, in Naples, describes the perfect storm that leads to osteoporosis. “Inactivity, aging, hormone imbalances, steroid use, low vitamin D levels, low magnesium levels, nutritional deficiencies and emotional stress all play a role in osteoporosis. Foods can make it worse. Sweetened beverages and sugar increase inflammation, as well as alcohol consumption that can lead to a leaching of calcium from bones. Eating processed meat and red meat results in excess sodium intake and increased inflammation that can create bone loss. Caffeine and thyroid hormones also promote bone loss. If a woman is on thyroid replacement, she needs to keep levels optimized, “ advises Hughes.

Dr. Pamela HughesSupplements that get Hughes’ blessing for osteoporosis are strontium, an alkaline earth metal, vitamins D3 and K2 in combination, as well as calcium and magnesium. Even with the controversy over calcium, she asserts that it is important to balance it with the D, magnesium and K2 and not to take excess calcium.

Hughes list of recommendations includes weight-bearing exercise at least three or four days per week. “I’ve followed the bone densities of women that used whole body vibration therapy and a more alkaline diet high in veggies. Their bone densities improved year to year and they weren’t using prescription drugs for osteoporosis. Understand that once you start some of those pharmaceuticals, your bone loss will become worse if you stop. Once you start, you’re on them for life,” says Hughes.

Yoga and Osteoporosis

“Few women realize that they have osteoporosis until they fall, experience a fracture and are diagnosed,” says Deb Grilo, yoga teacher and owner of Practice Yoga, in Naples.

Deb GriloGrilo notes that yoga is good for gaining bone mass and strengthening bones. “We do yoga in bare feet and spread our toes, strengthening all of our arches. This helps with balance and reduces the risk of falling. We bear our body weight in poses, lift, lengthen and decompress the spine, which pulls the vertebrae apart. And postures work deep core muscles that improve posture,” she says.

Grilo refers to a study conducted by Dr. Loren M. Fishman, a psychiatrist at Columbia University who specializes in rehabilitative medicine. Fishman followed 741 individuals (202 were women) from 2005 to 2015 gathering evidence on how12 yoga poses, practiced daily or every other day, affected bone health. The average age of participants upon joining the study was 68, and 83 percent had osteoporosis or its precursor, osteopenia.

A decade later, the findings of bone density measurements reported in Topics of Geriatric Rehabilitation showed improved bone density in the spine and femur of the 227 participants that were moderately or fully compliant with the assigned yoga exercises.

Heart Disease

Heather Auld, M.D.In the book Doing Harm, author Maya Dusenbery expresses surprise to learn through her research that the American Heart Association declared in 2016 that despite some progress over the last two decades, heart disease remains under-studied, under-diagnosed and under-treated in women.”

Integrative medicine specialists such as Heather Auld, M.D., Lee Physician Group Integrative Medicine, in Bonita Springs, practice a whole systems approach to helping female patients that present symptoms of heart disease. “We can prevent 80 percent of existing heart disease with an anti-inflammatory diet, probiotics, exercise, a regular sleep schedule and encouraging women to build community connections and relationships, as well as to practice some form of stress management, and having them follow a Mediterranean diet rich in fruits and vegetables, which puts seriously needed nutrients and fiber in their diet,” explains Auld.

Stress management is whatever works for a woman that needs to have an outlet for relaxation and feeling joy. “It could be connecting with nature, praying, meditating, listening to music, deep breathing, spending time with a pet, doing yoga or earthing, which is having contact with the Earth’s magnetic force by walking barefoot. For me, it’s grooming my horse,” says Auld, who mentions that social relationships, a sense of purpose and meaningful volunteer work are also good for the heart.


Doreen DeStefanoAt Root Causes Holistic Health and Medicine, in Fort Myers, Doreen DeStefano, owner, registered nurse, natural heath practitioner and licensed esthetician, has a toolbox of intravenous nutrient therapy, a hyperbaric oxygen chamber and pulsed electromagnetic therapy (PEMF). She uses them in conjunction with a healthy diet and supplementation when working with clients that have Alzheimer’s or dementia, or are looking to prevent them. She also uses them for other health conditions.

DeStefano uses an intravenous infusion of phosphatidylcholine, a major component of biological membranes that plays a role in membrane-mediated cell signaling, to get to optimal levels in the brain. “This helps repair cellular membrane of the central nervous system so cells can function and communicate. Nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD) infusion therapy protects DNA, slows down aging and helps restore function in neurodegenerative illnesses such as Parkinson’s,” she says.

“PEMF increases vascular capacity. We use it in conjunction with hyperbaric oxygen therapy. We open the existing blood vessels with PEMF and then use the hyperbaric chamber to push oxygen into the capillaries that aren’t getting blood flow. The frequency of treatments depends on whether the goal is prevention, managing or reversal,” notes DeStefano.

Autoimmune – It’s All About the Gut

“If I’m dealing with someone who has autoimmune issues, I start with cleaning up the gut and recommending a healthy diet because that’s where those issues originate. I start wherever I suspect the root cause is. You cannot doctor your way out of a crappy diet,” enthuses DeStefano.

Depression – It’s a Gut Ditto

Deborah PostMood disorders such as depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder, stereotyped as women’s conditions, are symptoms of other problems that originate not in the brain, but in the gut. “Patients with mood disorders have to clean up their gut. Although serotonin, which helps regulate mood, sleep, appetite, digestion and memory, is a brain neurotransmitter, 90 percent of the body's serotonin is made in the digestive tract,” says Deb Post, an advanced registered nurse practitioner and owner of Wellbridges, in Bonita Springs.

Improving the gut’s microbiome is essential. Taking the right strains of probiotics, along with eating a healthy diet, reducing environmental toxins, as well as reducing stress and allergens goes a long way in elevating mood helping improve any health problem you have. It’s the basis for all disease,” notes Post.

Breast Cancer

Dee HarrisDee Harris, owner of D-Signed Nutrition, in Bonita Springs, took the road less traveled after learning she had breast cancer. Harris agreed to have the lump removed, but not to the chemotherapy, radiation or medication that came with a list of side effects that impact quality of life. “My family and friends were supportive in that they prayed for me, but none of them understood how I could go against doctor’s orders. I told them that I had done my research and understood all the implications. If I did it my way, with lifestyle changes I would have a better quality of life, a reduced risk of heart disease, no side effects and a reduced risk for a recurrence,” says Harris, who today recommends that every woman that is diagnosed with breast cancer should do their own extensive research.

“Prevention is the cure,” says Harris. It starts with reducing stress levels, getting your genetics tested to determine if you can detox estrogen, and having your urinary ratio of estrogen metabolites checked. Results could be a predictor of probability for developing breast cancer. “If you’re not a good estrogen detoxifier, there are supplements to take and things to do to protect yourself. I refer patients to the Environmental Working Group website so they can learn how they can limit their exposure to toxins in their home environment and personal care products,” advises Harris, who urges women to remove inflammatory junk food, unhealthy fat, sugar and high-fructose corn syrup from their diet. Additionally, she encourages everyone to visit to learn about medications and the nutritional deficiencies they cause.

Thermography – More Clues

Jo Vaccarino, owner of Be Well Digital Infrared Thermal Imaging, in Naples, suggests that women get the whole picture on breast health. “Thermography provides important information about the physiology of the breasts and nearby lymph nodes. This valuable puzzle piece is a unique perspective and can actually act serve as a guide to increase the efficacy of ultrasound,” says Vaccarino.

The Science of Social Connectedness

Dorothy RodwellLoneliness is linked to a significant increase in the risk of early mortality, according to a study at Brigham Young University. Head author Julianne Holt-Lunstad notes, “Substantial evidence indicates that individuals lacking social connections (both objective and subjective social isolation) are at risk for premature mortality.”

Dorothy Rodwell, a licensed psychotherapist who also practices at AHA! A Holistic Approach, in Fort Myers, advises that social connectedness is well known for having a positive impact on overall health and longevity. Being socially active and integrated into the community can reduce stress and support your life purpose.

“Loving relationships and friendships involve the release of oxytocin (a complex hormone acting as a neurotransmitter) and boosts the feel-good neurochemical serotonin,” advises Rodwell, who also discusses the connection between food and mood with her clients.


AHA! A Holistic Approach LLC, 15971 McGregor Blvd., Ft. Myers. 239-851-7166.

Be Well Digital Infrared Thermal Imaging, 1032 Goodlette Rd, Naples. 239-250-9312.

D-Signed Nutrition, 3531 Bonita Bay Blvd., Ste. 300, Bonita Springs. 239-676-5249.

Hughes Center for Functional Medicine, 800 Goodlette Rd., Naples, 239-649-7400.

Lee Physician Group Integrative Medicine, 26800 S. Tamiami Tr., Ste. 350, Bonita Springs. 239-495-4480.

Practice Yoga, 5926 Premier Way, Ste. 128, Naples. 239-631-1925.

Root Causes Holistic Health Medicine, 12734 Kenwood Lane, Ste. 84, Ft. Myers. 239-425-2900.

Upstream Medical Consultants, PLLC, 27499 Riverview Center Blvd., Ste. 255, Bonita Springs, 239-444-5636.

Wellbridges, 9200 Bonita Beach Rd., Ste. 213, Bonita Springs, 239-481-560.

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