Fungal Infection, Artificial Sweeteners, and Antioxidants with Brian Wright—#020

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Brian Wright is a medicinal chemist who is currently working on his PhD at the University of Illinois in Chicago.  He is a specialist in the field of food additives, and is known as “The Empowerment Scientist.”  Brian’s work consists of research and experiments, both in the lab and in everyday life, to find scientifically-valid ways that people can experience great health and a great life.  His findings have been featured on NBC News and in the Chicago Sun-Times.

Brian is known for his easy-to-understand manner as he communicates his research to the general public.  His goal is to help people have better interaction with their healthcare providers.  He has devoted his career to empowering people through information, because he has seen how they don’t generally have access to the results of scientific research and testing.

So, how did Brian become a medicinal chemist?

  • He grew up in Chicago, where he was introduced to science and fun experiments by his grandmother, who was a retired teacher from SC.
  • He focused on chemistry in high school, especially physical chemistry at the subatomic level.
  • He developed a serious fungal infection, and was prescribed a topical solution that just didn’t seem to work permanently.
  • The doctor offered a drug to take internally, but warned of liver complications; Brian was reluctant to take that risk.
  • He overheard some colleagues talk about male yeast infections, and discovered that his external fungal infection could be a symptom of an internal yeast infection of the digestive tract.
  • He began taking the capsule form of Pau d’Arco tree bark, from South America. The bark is ground into powder, and used mainly as an antifungal treatment.  The rash cleared up, but he noticed that his chronic fatigue, depression, and mood swings were all gone as well.
  • Brian was amazed, and concluded, “PLANTS ARE POWERFUL!”
  • It was this revelation that pointed Brian in the direction of medicinal chemistry.


What was really going on with Brian’s infection and its cure?  The doctor never concluded how Brian contracted the fungal infection, but the most probable cause is that an antibiotic he took may have killed the good bacteria in his GI tract, then the yeast grew unchecked.  As a pharmacist, I see quite regularly how people can upset the balance of bacteria in their bodies for months, then develop a secondary fungal infection.  What Brian did conclude, however, was that the Pau d’Arco capsules treated and cured maladies far above his expectations.


As Brian pursued a career in chemistry, he became aware of the area of food chemistry.  Today, he specifically studies cardiovascular-related compounds that can protect the heart and coronary arteries from diseases.


Brian’s work focuses on “chemoprevention,” which uses natural chemistry to prevent major diseases like cancer and cardiovascular diseases.


I asked Brian his opinion and research findings about 3 specific non-nutritive sweeteners:

  1. Aspartame—This sweetener has been linked to many negative side effects, and is one Brian heard about in his early days as a chemist.  Even though it is still widely used, Brian highly recommends NOT using it.
  2. Sucralose—Brian says the chemical structure of sucralose is “frightening.” It’s a halogen, contains chlorine, and is toxic.  Brian’s advice is to use your own judgment, but he personally avoids it.
  3. Stevia—This sweetener has different compounds with a sugar-like portion, but one that can’t be converted into energy. It was originally called “a tea/coffee enhancement.”  A lot of political maneuvering was required to get it labeled as a sweetener.  Brian personally uses Stevia, but cautions against overusing it.


What guidelines does Brian recommend when considering any food additive?

  • The chemical structure of some substances makes them look “different” to the body’s enzymes, so they pose problems in being broken down and utilized. Ex:  “trans” fats
  • “The dose makes the poison.” Ex: sucralose, because it is toxic, but in small doses it may not cause problems.
  • Consider the “dose and matrix.” This means to analyze the dosage and the means of getting it into the body, whether by food, drink, supplement, etc.  These two factors determine how much of the compound ends up in the blood and how much in the body’s tissues.
  • With any additive, what are the risks? The problem here is that the general public has a limited ability to assess the risks.  That’s why someone like Brian can be a valuable asset.
  • What are the benefits vs. the side effects? Does one outweigh the other?  Some additives have been pulled off the shelf due to toxicity even though they have many beneficial properties.

ANTIOXIDANTS—we hear about them everywhere, but what does a chemist like Brian have to say?  Brian’s work in researching cardiovascular diseases focuses on compounds with antioxidant properties.  He looks for the relationship between heart disease, diabetes, and insulin—which are all affected by antioxidants.  Since many antioxidants can be vasodilators or vasoconstrictors, they affect the vascular system and insulin levels.  Brian studies antioxidants from plants to see what properties they have and what dose strength.  Antioxidants can actually heal the body from atherosclerosis and the damage from LDL cholesterol.  High levels of antioxidants are found in color-rich berries like mulberries, blackberries, blueberries, and goji berries.  These are also high nutrient-dense, low-glycemic foods that are cardioprotective.

One interesting concept that Brian discusses with me is the “French Paradox.”  This is the puzzling fact that even though the French eat high-fat diets, they have lower rates of heart disease—why?  In short, this is thought to be because of their high wine intake.  What happens is that fungi attack the grapes, so lots of veratrol is produced in the skin of the grapes.  Veratrol is a phytoalexin that ends up in the wine; it has properties that may protect against cardiovascular disease.  As with any alcoholic beverage, we put ourselves at risk, so Brian urges caution.

The last major topic I asked Brian about is supplements.  There are so many differing opinions everywhere we turn on this topic.  He recommends four supplements that are safe for everyone:

  • A good, whole-food multivitamin: Taking a multivitamin minimizes the risks associated with isolated compounds.  Brian takes Pure Synergy, available at
  • Essential fatty acids: This can be fish-oil based or flax/hemp/chia seed based.
  • Vitamin D: This is somewhat controversial, available in several forms, and very important for vegans.
  • Probiotics: This helps maintain the balance of good bacteria in the GI tract.


Supplements can easily be overused.  Brian urges us to remember that it is always better to get nutrients from food itself than from an isolated compound.  There simply hasn’t been enough information gathered and tested to know how these compounds interact with each other over time.  In conclusion, eat a healthy, balanced diet, and don’t rely too much on nutritional supplements.




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Until next time, remember to eat consciously, because the world needs a healthy and vibrant you!

With Love <3
Dr. Anh




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