Interview with Desert Harvest CEO Heather Florio

Interview with Desert Harvest CEO Heather Florio

At Pelvic Relief we have been working with Desert Harvest for over a year to make their incredible products available to our UK customers. 

Heather Florio, CEO of Desert Harvest, kindly agreed to sit down with us and answer a few questions to help us get to know her and her revolutionary products a little better.

Desert Harvest is a second-generation business. Can you tell us a little bit about the origin story?

Desert Harvest was born out of a need for a family member. My aunt was diagnosed with Interstitial Cystitis at a time when few doctors recognized it and claimed it was all in your head. She was living with us at the time, and we were trying to get her better support and treatment. My mom and aunt went to a natural product expo and came across a random Aloe Vera product touted for its anti-inflammatory properties. Out of desperation, my aunt consumed the whole bottle and ended up sleeping through the night without needing to get up to use the bathroom. My aunt and mother realized the potential of the Aloe Vera to help support IC symptoms and contacted a chemist friend to begin exploring how to concentrate the Aloe Vera and make it safe for long-term use and in high doses. They developed the same formula we still use today. 

Can you help us understand a bit more about Bladder Pain Syndrome (Interstitial Cystitis) and why you think it takes so long for people who suffer from it to find effective treatments?

There is a distinction between Bladder Pain Syndrome (BPS) and Interstitial Cystitis (IC), though the Nomenclature is starting to evolve. IC typically denotes a true bladder wall impact, involving inflammation, and/or ulcers. Bladder Pain Syndrome initially was used more specifically in Europe, but it is differentiated by the fact that some patients would still experience many of the same pain symptoms, but not necessarily the same ulcerative symptoms. This begins to define the complexity of things. 

In recent research, doctors are trying to phenotype BPS vs IC with true bladder wall impact. In instances where myofascial (pelvic muscle) pain was present, 88% of cases were resolved with pelvic floor physiotherapy. Whereas in cases with the presence of neuralgia and nerve pain, we often will see a variety of conditions related to a specific injury, creating a complexity of things in the body and nervous system that make the bladder feel painful. In ongoing research, we are finding very little overlap actually between these categories. Accurately phenotyping people will allow us to do better research, and this is partly why it can take so long for patients to get a diagnosis. It is a disease of exclusion. 

Unfortunately, it does a disservice to IC research and other painful conditions because the cohort is muddied with a percentage of people who are experiencing painful bladder symptoms but don't actually have IC and that will skew the results. But that is also why we want to be able to offer a range of symptomatic support. If you have IC, take the Aloe Vera Capsules. Our McGill University research has shown that if you have nerve pain, our CBD combined with our Aloe Vera to enhance absorption provides a 56% reduction of bladder pain in 24 hours. If you have myofascial pain, this is supported best through pelvic floor physiotherapy. We offer the EZMagic Pelvic Wands, Aloe Glide to promote healthy tissues, our Aloe Wipes to help restore pH balance, and our Reléveum to address pain around the vulva and vestibule. We want to provide our community with more options and education outside of what has been provided. For instance - don't do Kegels immediately to support your pelvic health! They may do more harm than good. Most women believe they need to strengthen their pelvic muscles to feel relief, and while that is partially true, more often than not there are areas of the pelvis that are too tight and cannot relax. We can't self-treat all of these issues. 

How does Desert Harvest Super Strength Aloe Vera fit into the treatment of Bladder Pain Syndrome and why is it different from the numerous other aloe vera products you see in health food stores? 

The Aloe Vera that we use is very different than anything you will find in a health food store.  Aloe Vera naturally has anti-nutrients called anthraquinones, latex chemicals, which are carcinogenic and cause liver and kidney damage if taken long-term. Scientists believe they are safe in small doses and allow it in small parts, however, when we developed our Aloe Vera products, we needed to be able to utilize Aloe Vera in very large concentrations for long-term use.  So what truly sets us apart from any other Aloe Vera on the market is our process, which makes it safe and beneficial for long-term use and not a laxative product - which is what most Aloe Vera products on the market are used for, "benefiting" from those latex, laxative chemicals!

Everything we do goes back to how we can make our Aloe Vera safe and more effective. For this reason, we start by growing our organic Aloe Vera in nutrient-rich volcanic soil to help further boost its already potent nutrient content. Aloe Vera contains over 200 nutrients, 75 of which are active, including  Acemannan (ACE), D-Mannose, and anti-bacterial, antifungal, antibiotic, anesthetic, anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, and antiseptic properties, along with a host of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.  Our 180-unit Super-Strength Aloe Vera Capsule bottle contains the equivalent of 89 full-grown aloe barbadensis, which grow up to 48 inches! We're also harvesting just the outer leaves so it's a more sustainable and regenerative process. 

What most people don't know is that the minute you cut the Aloe leaf off the plant, malic acid starts to eat away at the nutrients. After just 6-8 hours ALL the nutrients in the Aloe Vera are dead. Since Aloe Vera is made up of 98.5% water, what is left is the water, fiber, and toxic anthraquinones. However, our patented process starts processing within only 20 minutes of cutting the leaf off to maximize the nutrients. We utilize a unique patented process to extract ALL the anthraquinones, remove all the insoluble fiber, and freeze dry it to remove the water, so what is left is simply a potent, pure, and safe product that supports the sensitive systems of those suffering with Interstitial Cystitis. We add a little calcium carbonate to make it as alkaline as possible for the bladder to help buffer acidity. 

The biggest difference is our process which truly transforms what the Aloe Vera is even being used for. No other Aloe Vera product on the market has been proven safe in research for long-term use and in high doses. We get so many people that reach out to us that say, I've googled Aloe Vera and so many warnings come up for it that it is a laxative, that it is not safe for long-term use, that it causes liver and kidney issues. Ours is not that! And any Aloe Vera that you buy that does not process and preserve the nutrients promptly, is essentially expensive and toxic sugar water. 

You have always prioritized working closely with healthcare professionals and healthcare charities. Can you tell us a bit more about the work Desert Harvest has done and what you have planned for the future?

Desert Harvest has always been committed to furthering research and education. It is such an important piece, especially with women, and teaching women how to advocate for themselves and take care of their bodies, because so much of the research in our country and world is geared toward men. Research in women's health is also greatly lacking. So, our process of developing a product may begin with researching how to optimize an ingredient and how to make a more functional version of it. Our CBD product combined with our Aloe Vera, which helps to make the CBD and other nutrients more bioavailable, took 5 years to finalize. We needed to understand what actually makes a difference in the body, researching what ingredients work for, but also what they don't work for. CBD is a great example because there are so many claims that it works for nearly everything, but that isn't a true and researched statement. Safety and efficacy are also so important. There are so many products that claim to be similar to ours, and we caution buyers to educate themselves before jumping on the bandwagon that just because it is the same touted ingredient, does not mean it holds the same benefit. There are so many factors. 

Education is a huge piece for use. For instance, how to take care of the pelvic floor and the vaginal biome is a larger part of a more complete and holistic view of caring for the health of someone with IC, or a vagina. We want to educate people to understand there is and will always be a need for a more complete understanding of their health and well-being. We are continually helping to support clinicians’ understanding of the growing developments and research. We've gone to Africa to provide clinical support and held the first women's pelvic health course in Turkey in 2022. In August we will be going to Peru to teach indigenous women more about how to care for their bodies. We've supported similar programs to help educate youth in sexual health and wellness. The Youth Sexpert Program helps to educate and create sexual education advocates in schools, similar to the Sex Education show. 

What are you most excited about in the future for Desert Harvest and the communities you look after?

We are most excited about the study we are doing at Wake Forest University and having that completed this year is furthering the research with IC and Aloe Vera to understand the full mechanism of action and seeing how the Aloe Vera interacts with the urothelial cell layer of the bladder in live time. 

Additionally, we are currently conducting a study with the UK organization, Live UTI Free where we are studying the delivery of the calluna vulgaris plant for UTI treatment and prevention. The current offerings are d-mannose which are shown to bind to 1 variant of bacteria. The heather plant extract is showing promise in binding with 3 different bacterial strains. These findings are sure to revolutionize the treatment of UTIs and we are excited to launch later this year. 

Beyond the Desert Harvest Super Strength Aloe Vera and the Bladder Friendly Supplement range could you tell us about the other products Desert Harvest offers for pelvic and sexual health?

We have a range of products, all utilizing our patented Aloe Vera. In our skincare, the Aloe Vera provides its potent nutrients while allowing them to penetrate the dermal layers deeper.  Aloe Vera has the ability to reach the deepest tissue layers, as deep as seven layers. Most lotions, liquid substances, and water will penetrate only two layers of skin. In our supplements, the Aloe Vera enhances the bioavailability, so we have paired it with other nutrients and our CBD. Our line of lubricants are pH balanced to match either the vaginal or anal tissue and iso-osmolar. We are 1 of 2 iso-osmolar lubricants on the market. This is an important but widely overlooked piece in lubrication that helps to retain natural moisture, reduce micro-tears and irritation, and prevent infection. 

Our consumer base is mostly those with IC. This already can create complications with painful sex, irritation, and inflammations. Many of these symptoms can worsen as you age and go through menopause. What many people don't know is most lubricants on the market that are not iso-osmolar are actually very quickly drying up and further degenerating the tissue of the vaginal canal creating more long-term symptoms. Ours actually helps to retain natural moisture while providing nutrients deep within the tissue. We also offer our Pelvic Wands, EZMagic Pelvic Wands, which were the first pelvic wands on the market and the model on which all pelvic wands were based. Ours are made of a very strong, virtually unbreakable medical-grade borosilicate glass that can be used internally (vaginally & rectally), heated and cooled, and most importantly, because the material is not porous and does not degrade over time, can be cleaned with ease and not harbor bacteria. We also offer our Reléveum Skin Repair Cream with 4% Lidocaine.

This product has become extremely popular with those undergoing radiation therapy to help support the pain and heal the skin with the help of our potent Aloe Vera. It is also widely used in Pelvic Physical Therapy to lessen pain in the vulvar area when used around the vestibule. We offer our Aloe Rebalance pH- balanced feminine hygiene wash and Aloe Wipes that are great tools to help restore the pH balance to the vulva and help to clean up after sex or even the gym, providing natural ways to keep fresh and keep the acidic vagina balanced. I also co-authored a book with the Pelvic Physical Therapist and Women's Health Specialist, Ingrid Harm-Ernades, The Musculoskeletal Mystery: How to Solve your Pelvic Floor Symptoms - which is a full and detailed resource guide for those who are in pain and want to create more sustainable solutions addressing total pelvic health. 

The company has been hugely successful under your leadership. What are the key challenges you have faced and what are your plans for the future?

As previously discussed, education has always been a huge part of the challenge. Educating our prospective customers about the difference between Aloe Vera and our Potent Super-Strength Aloe Vera has been challenging. We want to continue to expand on education in the broader pelvic and women's health and provide more thorough and complimentary tools to support those suffering or who lack education about their own bodies. 

You have worked with thousands of customers who have Bladder Pain Syndrome. What are the key pieces of advice you give them?

Don't give up is the biggest one. It's frustrating, it's a journey in some cases it's a never-ending journey. In my case, I'm still discovering what serves me best - how nutrition, stress, overall wellness, and mood affect my symptoms.  Don't forget to take care of your overall body and mind! This disease can wear on so many people. It's critical not to get lost on your journey.