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    • Heart Health

      The stats tell it all: The number one cause of death in the United States is heart disease. That’s right, more than any other disease – even cancer (a close second) – heart disease is the most likely to kill you. The United States is currently facing a “diabesity” epidemic, or a substantial increase in the prevalence of metabolic syndrome leading to diabetes and obesity, all serious risk factors for heart disease.

      According to the American Heart Association, every 34 seconds someone in the US dies of a heart attack. By the time you finish reading this paragraph, another person will have lost their life. Sadly, many people do not even know they have heart disease until they experience a heart attack. These facts alone make Heart Health a critical topic to understand.

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    • Skin Health

      The gut-skin connection is very significant. Inflammatory processes present in the gut may manifest on the skin. Toxins are expelled with sweat, and can cause the skin to react. Like the inside of the digestive tract, the skin is covered in microbes which can be neutral, protective or pathogenic. Skin reaction may reflect what is going on inside the body. Therefore treating skin conditions only from the outside will often be ineffective and lead to other chronic issues.

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    • Brain Health

      The gut-brain connection occurs in two directions—from the brain to the gut, and from the gut to the brain. When a person has a “gut feeling,” or an emotional upset causes a stomachache or loss of appetite, they experience examples of the first, most familiar direction. When the gut is out of balance, inflammation results leading to a condition commonly known as leaky gut. A leaky gut will allow undigested food particles and toxins to enter into the bloodstream. Some may cross into the brain, setting the stage for diseases like Alzheimers and dementia. Recognizing the underlying contributing factors that created the gut imbalance in the first place is the first step to achieving optimal brain function .

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Synthetic Bacteria? What Will It Mean?

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 12/31/2010


The television news magazine 60 Minutes recently aired a piece about the creation of the first synthetic cell. The scientist at the head of this research, J. Craig Venter, is also responsible for mapping the human genome. Over the past 15 years, $40 million and his team of researchers have created a self-replicating bacteria with synthetic DNA.

The synthetic cell Mycoplasma mycoides JCV1-syn1.0 bacterium began with the computerized mapping of the genetic code of the M. mycoides bacteria. The scientists then made some modifications to the original genetic sequence, which acts as the genetic ID code that distinguishes this bacteria from its natural counterpart. From there, the actual DNA pieces were created in lab using the four basic chemicals that make up DNA.

These synthetic DNA fragments were assembled inside yeast cells to form a complete DNA chromosome, which was transplanted to a bacterial cell similar to the M. mycoides (M. capricolum). Inside the cytoplasm of the M. capricolum cell, the DNA began the process of self-replication, resulting in the creation of a new, synthetic M. mycoides strain of bacteria.

Synthetic biology is an emerging field that comes with much controversy. Synthetic biologists tout many possible benefits of creating synthetic life forms. On the other hand, this science raises many concerns about the potential of unknown implications from creating synthetic life. Further funds are already being used to develop synthetic segments of every known flu virus for the purpose of rapidly creating new vaccines.

What this all means for the long term is difficult to say. When the human genome was first mapped, researchers thought it would result in the understanding and curing of human diseases. As it turns out, the knowledge gained from this understanding is not having the impact on human disease as was originally thought.

The more informed we are about research like this from the beginning, the more we will be able to make educated decisions about our health.

Too Clean For Our Own Good

Filed in General | Posted by lsmith on 12/29/2010


“It is possible for a person to be too clean for their own good.” This is a recent quote from Allison Aiello, visiting associate professor of epidemiology at Harvard, who is studying the effect of frequent handwashing with antimicrobial soap containing triclosan, or 2,4,4’-trichloro-2’-hydroxydiphenyl ether. Her research has shown an increase in allergies and hay fever in children and teens with chronic use of soap products containing triclosan.

Handwashing with a powerful soap containing triclosan brings up two questions:

1. What is the effect of chronic removal of hand bacteria? We know where these hands go, especially in children (the mouth, for starters).

2. What could this chemical be doing to our body from a metabolic/hormonal perspective?

My input:
1. Science has now discovered that people normally have over a 1000 different species of bacteria not only in our intestinal tract, but also on our skin. This fact points out the normal symbiotic balance with microbes that we have evolved with for millions of years. The human/microbe symbiosis is especially important in childhood immune development. Research and clinical observations support the “Hygiene Theory,” which states that a lack of early childhood exposure to infectious and symbiotic microorganisms and parasites increases susceptibility to allergic diseases (like allergies, asthma, dermatitis, and autoimmune diabetes) by disrupting the natural development of the immune system. Children living in non-industrial countries and closer to nature generally don’t have these problems.

2. Triclosan is also used in toothbrushes, ice-making machines, and in pesticides! This type of exposure has led to research by concerned individuals who have now shown significant evidence that it is yet another toxin with hormone-disrupting qualities which could majorly affect immunity. Due to the increase in negative evidence, the FDA has decided to thoroughly investigate triclosan, but not until 2013—a decade earlier than previously planned!

So what are the solutions? First, take a high quality probiotic and also make your own cultured foods. We may soon find topical probiotics could be beneficial, as well. Second, find safe soaps and use them mostly after exposure to public places. Safe soaps (or hand sanitizers) can be found at www.ewg.org, under cleansing products – hand sanitizers. Third, get involved in social networking by joining “green”groups to help educate and promote the changes we desperately need.

http://www.epa.gov/oppsrrd1/REDs/factsheets/triclosan_fs.htm

Stop Ignoring This Vital Tip

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 12/27/2010


If we had a dime for every time we heard the advice to “drink at least eight glasses of water each day,” or “drink half your body weight in ounces each day,” we’d be rich, right? So why is it that many of us don’t follow this essential advice? So many people tell me that they don’t drink enough water. And I suspect many more people don’t even realize they don’t drink enough.

So, this week I want you to track your water intake for three days. Just jot down what you drink all day and how many ounces. Are your fluids more in the form of caffeinated coffee and tea (both more dehydrating than hydrating) rather than water? Do you find it difficult to drink half your body weight in ounces each day? If so, it’s time to make some changes.

If you find it hard to drink so much water, then get to the herbal tea aisle and begin to experiment with herbal, non-caffeinated teas. There are so many different kinds, and some even have slightly sweet flavors, if that’s your fancy. Don’t add sugar though. If you need more sweetness, add stevia or Sweet Life, non-calorie sweeteners. Every cell in your body needs water, and so does your digestive system, to properly function. Make sure you get the right amount every day to feel your best.

BPA at Your Kids’ Dentist Office?

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 12/24/2010


I talk about BPA a lot because not a week goes by that I don’t hear about it in the news. It seems that not enough can be said about the potential negative effects of this chemical. It’s in most plastics, most food cans, baby bottles, and now…it’s at your child’s next dental appointment.

A dental resin used for dental fillings and tooth sealant has been found to contain BPA that remains in saliva for up to three hours after dental work. BPA, or bisphenol A, is a hormone disruptor that may be especially harmful to children.

More products are becoming available that are BPA free, like plastic water bottles and even BPA free canned food. So how can you avoid BPA at the dentist? Well, authors of a study in the journal Pediatrics suggest rinsing with water for 30 seconds after the dental work is completed to reduce the amount of BPA. I guess that’s a start. But it’s still a scary thought that our children our ingesting this toxin while trying to preserve their dental health.

It just goes to show that chemicals are everywhere. As a matter of fact, another BPA study found that hormone disruptors, like BPA, phthalates and PCBs, are found indoors, outdoors, in homes of the poor and homes of the affluent. Yet another recent study funded by the National Institutes of Health found evidence that current levels of BPA exposure is dangerous to our health. With more than 8 billion pounds of BPA made per year, I’d say it’s a big problem.

I call it a toxic soup that we are swimming in. That’s why it’s so important to do what we can to avoid toxins and live clean.

Achoo! Pass the Probiotics

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 12/22/2010


Probiotics are well known for their beneficial effects on the gut. After all, that’s where they thrive. But these beneficial bacteria have far-reaching effects that you wouldn’t think had anything to do with the digestive tract. One of the main reasons for this is due to the fact that immune system that resides in the gut, in the gut-associated lymphoid tissue (GALT). These beneficial gut bacteria “communicate,” in a sense, with the immune system. When there is a healthy balance of good bacteria, the immune system responds properly. When there is an imbalance, the immune system might miss the message altogether. Then the sniffles begin.

A recent study found that daily consumption of the probiotic strains Lactobacillus plantarum and Lactobacillus paracasei helped protect study participants against the common cold, as well as reduced symptoms for those who contracted colds. Just more proof that the gut is connected to other systems of the body. Our gut health is truly at the heart of our total-body health. Studies like these support the “gut instincts” I’ve had for a long time. So next time you reach for a tissue, reach for some probiotics, too.

Save Your Colon!

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 12/20/2010


Colorectal (bowel) cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the U.S. The lifetime risk in men for developing colorectal cancer is one in 19. In women it’s one in 20. Those are some scary stats when you think about it!

A few lifestyle factors are known to be protective against bowel cancer. A recent study looked at five of these factors in a group of over 55,487 adults aged 50 to 64 for nearly a decade. Over this period, 678 people out of the study group were diagnosed with colorectal cancer.

What the researchers found was encouraging. If participants had followed just one of the recommendations below, 13 percent of the bowel cancer cases could have been prevented. If all participants had followed all five recommendations, then almost one quarter of bowel cancer cases could have been avoided.

This week, think about the following lifestyle recommendations and how they may help save your colon (and your life!):

– At least 30 minutes of daily physical activity
– No more than seven alcoholic drinks per week for women, and 14 for men
– Not smoking
– Maintaining waist circumference below 34 ½ inches for women and 40 inches for men
– Consuming a healthy diet

Probiotics for Ulcerative Colitis

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 12/17/2010


Probiotics are now being considered for use in treating many digestive (and even non-digestive) health conditions and diseases. Two such diseases in which probiotics have been studied are the inflammatory bowel diseases ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. These conditions involve chronic inflammation of the intestines. Crohn’s disease primarily involves the lower small intestine, but may involve the entire digestive tract. Ulcerative colitis involves the rectum and large intestine, or colon (hence the name colitis—meaning inflammation of the colon).

A recent double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study found that in addition to standard treatment, a high-potency, multistrain probiotic improved symptoms. Equally important, it also improved appearance of the colonic mucosal lining in patients with relapsing mild-to-moderate ulcerative colitis compared to those patients only receiving standard treatment.

This is the strongest study to date on probiotics for ulcerative colitis and joins a growing body of evidence for their beneficial effects. Because ulcerative colitis is a serious disease, effective treatment is important. If you have ulcerative colitis, talk to your doctor about using probiotics. Want to learn more before you do? Tune in for my PBS Special The Road To Perfect Health, now airing on your local PBS station.

DHA and Alzheimer’s – There’s More to the Story

Filed in General | Posted by lsmith on 12/15/2010


A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that DHA supplementation in patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s did not slow the rate of cognitive and functional decline. The headlines that sprung from this study include: “No Benefit for DHA in Alzheimer’s Disease,” “DHA Does Not Slow Progression of Alzheimer’s,” and so on.

The problem with this study is obvious to me. First, they should have measured baseline DHA/EPA levels in the red blood cell membrane (RBC). This gives a better picture of long-term levels of DHA/EPA in the body, due to the slow turnover of these cells. This test is available from Genova Diagnostics. Johns Hopkins also offers a much more extensive one.

Next, there is always the problem of bad bacteria oxidizing the omega-3s in the gut. If this is occurring, the omega-3s will not be beneficial and may even be even harmful. A comprehensive stool analysis (CSA) or Stool Effect test (Metametrix) would be in order at the onset to make sure the omega-3s are being well received at the gut level. If gut imbalance exists, rebalancing the gut with probiotics is recommended.

There is still a chance of oxidation of omega-3s even after they are absorbed in blood, so oxidative blood markers like lipid peroxides, hsCRP (highly sensitive C-reactive protein), hemoglobin A1C, fibrinogen, and 8OHDG (measures oxidative stress to DNA) would be good to know. If there is a lot of intravascular oxidative stress, this certainly could mean there is some oxidation of the omega-3s. This is why some data supports combining antioxidants with omega-3s to minimize oxidation.

Before taking any measures of DHA in the red blood cell membranes, the first step should be cleaning up the gut and reversing or at least decreasing inflammatory markers as mentioned above.

A follow-up RBC membrane analysis near or at end of study would be crucial. If adequate repletion of omega-3s is not found you may be able to assume in all likelihood the brain has not gotten its fair share of omega-3s either. We can’t be certain, however, since the brain could preferentially take up omega-3s over blood, but I tend to doubt it since the blood would see the omega-3s first.

This study looked at patients who had already been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, but we know that the development of Alzheimer’s begins long before symptoms appear. Studies looking at fish oil supplementation BEFORE symptom onset have found a protective effect. Additionally, EPA is an important omega-3 also found in fish oil, but not used in the current study.

In addition, there are some small studies and anecdotal cases about the value of the saturated fat coconut oil reversing Alzheimer’s. It is thought this fat may be absorbed as a fuel by the brain, rather than glucose and may decrease insulin resistance in brain. Insulin resistance in the brain (also known as type 3 diabetes) is a major factor in all neurodegeneration, and especially Alzheimer’s disease.

I also think a person who has cleaned up vascular inflammation and gut issues could do well with stem cells for Alzheimer’s. I know of at least one woman who is doing quite well after stem cell therapy for her Alzheimer’s.

This was a typical medical study looking at one product and one end point. They found that when taking a lot of DHA, blood level and cerebrospinal fluid increased and yet, people with a significant degree of Alzheimer’s did not improve. That does not mean that fish oils are not beneficial for the brain. DHA is the most abundant fat in the brain, and resulted in positive effects when administered to patients with mild Alzheimer’s disease.1

Single nutrients (and for that matter most drugs) ARE NOT MAGIC BULLETS! Medical researchers need to take a systems biology approach—think whole symphony orchestra, not just the piano player (regardless of how well he/she plays). The role of diet, digestive health, stress reduction, inflammation reduction, detoxification of heavy metals and fat soluble toxins, adequate sleep, good elimination, moderate exercise, and psycho-emotional-spiritual balance all play a role in a person’s overall health. We need a symphony—not just a piano player—to make truly complex and beautiful music just as we need a symphony of nutrients to sustain a biochemically balanced person!

1. T. Hartmann, et al., “ Alzheimer’s disease: the lipid connection.” J Neurochem. 2007 Nov;103 Suppl 1:159-70.

The Good News About Probiotics

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 12/14/2010


If you’re reading this blog, chances are good you’ve heard of probiotics. Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that are known for supporting digestive and immune health. From my perspective, probiotics are as important as a daily multivitamin and have many healing properties. I have seen so many people get well while taking probiotics.

When people think of probiotics, the first thing that comes to mind is usually yogurt. It’s true that all yogurt is cultured with probiotics, but not all yogurt contains live cultures in the finished product. This is because yogurt must be pasteurized, or heated, to kill off potentially pathogenic bacteria. Unfortunately, this also kills off the beneficial bacteria the yogurt was cultured with. Some yogurts do contain live cultures that are added back in after pasteurization. Next time you buy yogurt, be sure to look for the “live cultures” label.

The limitation of yogurt, however, is the amount of probiotics in yogurt—it’s low. It may not be enough, especially if your gut is out of balance. Unless you want to eat a gallon of yogurt each day, a probiotic supplement is best.

A recent study found that a high-potency (450 billion), multi-strain probiotic was able to ease irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) symptoms in children and adolescents who took the supplement for six weeks. This is a very high dose, but it can take that much (even in children) in certain conditions to rebalance the gut.

On the other hand, a lower dose (even that found in yogurt) can be beneficial for certain health concerns. Another recent study found that a particular probiotic yogurt containing Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium lactis decreased cholesterol and increased HDL (“good”) cholesterol in women when eaten for six weeks.

It’s a fact: Bacteria are everywhere. It’s just a matter of striking the right balance. Yet another study found that household dust even contains up to 1,000 different microbe species per gram! (No wonder no one likes to dust!) We can only do so much to reduce our daily exposure to harmful toxins and pathogens, but we can do a lot to improve our health by choosing the right foods and nutrients to optimize the body’s functions.

Chew on This

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 12/13/2010


This week’s ‘Renew You’ Challenge? CHEW!

Take a minute to think about how well you chew your food. (It’ll probably surprise you). Do you even know how you chew? Or are you pretty sure that you don’t chew enough? Most people barely chew enough to get the food safely down the esophagus, let alone enough time to ensure that it will be properly digested.

The next time you sit down to a meal, chew each bite (yes, each and every bite) until it is complete mush. Then, and only then, swallow.

A few things will happen:

• You will eat slower.
• You will get full faster.
• Which means that you will eat less.
• Most importantly, you will better digest your food, which has far-reaching, beneficial effects on your gut.

Imagine if you did this at every meal. You could even lose those extra five pounds. And you might just gain an appreciation for the nutrition your food gives you.