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      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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      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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      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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Drink Filtered Water

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 02/28/2011


It was recently reported by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) that tap water in over 30 U.S. cities contains hexavalent chromium, a probable carcinogen. Hexavalent chromium is the chemical that was made famous by the movie Erin Brockovich. In the EWG study, tap water was tested in 35 cities; 31 of those cities’ water contained hexavalent chromium.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has not set limits for hexavalent chromium yet, but is considering it after the National Institutes of Health recognized it as a likely carcinogen in 2008. EPA limits total chromium in drinking water, but total chromium also includes the beneficial chromium—trivalent chromium—which is used by the body for nutrition. They should really test for the two separately. 

California is attempting to set limits for hexavalent chromium in water at 0.06 parts per billion (ppb). Of the 35 cities tested in EWG’s test, 25 cities contained levels above California’s limits.

There are so many other toxins in water that I don’t have room to cover in this blog post. Instead, I urge you to consider filtering your water at home. The best filters are thought to be reverse osmosis filters, which utilize fine membranes to filter out toxins. Reverse osmosis filters go under the sink, and are more expensive than other filters. But when it comes to getting the purest water, I think it’s a great investment in your health. (And think of all the money you’ll save if you don’t have to buy bottled water anymore, not to mention reducing the amount of plastic entering landfills!)

Check out my previous blog on water quality tests that were done by EWG. And check out EWG’s recent report on hexavalent chromium.  It’s an eye opener.

Are You Getting Enough Omega-3s From Your Fish Dinner?

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 02/25/2011


It is well-known that fish is a healthy food. Even the American Heart Association recommends at least two servings of fish every week for heart health. Unfortunately, not everyone is aware of the differences in omega-3 levels in fish.

For example, a woman who eats tilapia three times per week may think she is getting plenty of omega-3s, when in reality tilapia is much higher in omega-6 than omega-3! Or a man who eats a large portion of fried fish twice a week may think he is in the clear, but fish used for frying tends to be lower in omega-3s and high in fat.

On the other hand, eating spicy tuna sushi rolls a few times a week may give you plenty of omega-3s, but what about the mercury content of that tuna? Fish that are higher up on the food chain (especially albacore tuna) concentrate toxins like mercury, and those toxins end up on your plate.  

What’s a person to do? How can you protect your heart by eating the right fish in the right ways? It’s not easy, but it can be done. Honestly, your best bet is probably sardines, as it is a small fish (low in toxicity) with a high omega-3 level. But let’s face it, sardines aren’t exactly high on the list of big cravings. Another good option is wild salmon, baked or grilled. Try it sprinkled with lemon and laced with dill. Yum!

But if you have more serious heart concerns and need more than the minimum recommended two servings of fish per week (which is equal to about 500 mg daily of the combined omega-3s EPA and DHA), then you’ll probably have to eat far more fish than you can stomach. This is where a good fish oil supplement comes in. A high-potency, concentrated fish oil can give you plenty of omega-3 in one softgel. Look for a fish oil that has the IFOS seal (International Fish Oil Standards), which exceeds world standards for purity. This ensures you are getting a pure fish oil, without all the toxins. Not all fish oil meets these standards.

Fish Oils – A Healthy Way to Help Protect your Heart and Cardiovascular System

Filed in General | Posted by lsmith on 02/23/2011


There have been several epidemiological studies which support the fact that individuals at risk for cardiovascular and heart disease benefit from the consumption of plant omega-3s (alpha linolenic acid—ALA), and fish-derived omega-3 fatty acids (especially EPA and DHA). There are numerous mechanisms by which these omega-3 oils help prevent heart and blood vessel disease, including:

1. Decrease dangerous ventricular arrhythmias (heartbeat irregularities), especially fatal arrthymias

2. Prevent blood clotting

3. Lower triglycerides

4. Slow the production and growth of atherosclerotic calcium plaques (hardening arteries)

5. Prevent overall inflammation, which damages blood vessel lining (endothelium)

6. Promote nitric oxide-induced endothelial relaxation, which in turn…

7. Helps to lower blood pressure.

Prospective clinical studies have shown that the combination of EPA and DHA in the range of 500 mg to 1800 mg per day significantly reduces subsequent cardiac and all-cause mortality. For maximum benefit, it is also important to consider the omega-3 essential fatty acid linolenic acid (essential means it cannot be made by the body, and must be obtained from the diet or supplementation) which is the precursor for producing EPA and DHA in plants and fish. The beneficial intake is about 1500 mg to 3000 mg daily.

The above data supports the recommendation made by the AHA Dietary Guidelines to include at least two servings of fish per week and include plant-based oils from walnuts and flaxseeds, high in linolenic acid.1

However, due to environmental concerns of toxins in fish (PCBs in farm-raised fish, and mercury in wild fish), I think it is wise to consider getting most of your daily EPA and DHA from molecularly distilled fish oil, which is purified to remove these harmful toxins.

Since there can be issues with high doses of fish oil (most common is over-thinning of the blood), it would be a good idea to do a special blood test (annually) to determine the levels of all major oils in the red blood cell membranes. This test can be very valuable in determining whether you have too much, too little, or just the right amount of omega-3 and omega-6 oils, as well as the proper ratio of these oils. Keeping the balance right is key in preventing most illnesses, especially those due to inflammation, a factor involved in most all diseases.

P.M. Kris-Etherton, et al., “Fish consumption, fish oil, omega-3 fatty acids, and cardiovascular disease.” Circulation. 2002 Nov 19;106(21):2747-57.

New Dietary Guidelines Recommend Nutrient-Rich Foods

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 02/21/2011


Renew You Challenge

Let’s start this week off right!

Weekly challenge (I mean, opportunity!) to help set you off on the right foot and in the right direction for bringing health to your week. You could even add it to your calendar.  Join us! 

Every five years the Dietary Guidelines for Americans is reviewed, updated if necessary, and published.  The new Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 has taken an interesting turn.  Usually, the recommendations are for healthy Americans aged two years and older.  But this time, the guidelines are aimed at Americans two years and older, including those at increased risk of chronic disease

This is important with the current increase in obesity and chronic diseases, which can be prevented with diet and lifestyle modifications.  Obviously, the previous recommendations have not been getting through. 

New recommendations focus on choosing nutrient-rich foods and beverages.  This means foods that pack a lot of nutrients, and not just empty calories—vegetables, fruits, whole grains, seafood, lean proteins, and healthy fats.  They recommend replacing solid fats with oils (that means replacing saturated fats with mono- and polyunsaturated fats) when possible, and restricting saturated fat intake to less than 10 percent of total calories for the day. 

Another important recommendation is to limit the consumption of refined grains, added sugar and sodium (salt).  When it comes to the Standard American Diet (SAD), those three items are practically staples! 

Widespread recommendations like these have certainly been made before.  What I want to see is the food industry taking the cue and working to bring our foods back to their original state—WHOLE!  I say, the less processed, the better. 

This week, take a look at the foods you eat.  Do they contain added sugars?  What kinds of fats are present?  How about sodium?  Do you even know how much you’re getting?  Also track how many servings of fruits and veggies you eat daily.  (Hint: potatoes should not count as a main veggie—we’re looking for a rainbow of colors, folks!)

Air Pollution and Heart Health

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 02/18/2011


 Most people know that a diet high in bad fats (saturated and trans fats) and low in dietary fiber can lead to heart disease. But did you know that air pollution is also a risk factor? Of particular concern is the particulate matter (PM) or particle pollution, which is composed of solid and liquid particles in the air. PM comes from a variety of sources—vehicle exhaust, road dust, power generation, industrial combustion, construction and demolition activities, residential wood burning, windblown soil, pollens, molds, forest fires, and volcanic emissions.

People exposed to higher levels of PM are at higher risk for cardiovascular events, including death from heart attacks and strokes. Reducing exposure to air pollution is one way to reduce these risks.

 A recent study looked at the effect of using indoor HEPA (high efficiency particle air) filters on reducing indoor air pollution, and how it related to blood markers of heart disease. One HEPA filter was placed in the main living space of the home, and the other filter was placed in the bedroom. The filters ran for one week. About half of the homes in the study used wood burning stoves, a significant source of indoor air pollution.

The results? The average concentration of fine particulate matter inside the homes was reduced by 60 percent, and wood smoke was reduced by 75 percent. Further, endothelial function improved, and the inflammation marker C-reactive protein (CRP) decreased. These improvements are indications of the short-term heart health benefits of reducing air pollution exposure.

So if you think that you can’t do anything about the air you are breathing, this study shows that you can make a difference in your health by taking simple steps to reduce your exposure to indoor toxins. HEPA filters are widely available and are easy to use. Take this easy step today to improve your indoor air quality. Your heart will thank you.

Added Sugars and Heart Disease

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 02/16/2011


 It seems that the general public is aware that reducing saturated and trans fats, improving the diet by eating more fruits and vegetables (and thus, fiber!), and exercising regularly can help reduce the risk of developing heart disease later in life. When saturated fats were reduced in foods in response to public awareness of the heart-related dangers of these fats, what replaced them was added sugars. Unfortunately, people are less aware of the fact that added sugars also lead to the development of heart disease.

Added sugars come in many forms—high fructose corn syrup, fructose, sugar, sucrose, corn syrup, fruit juice concentrates, cane sugar…(the list goes on). Soft drinks and other sugar-sweetened beverages are the main source of added sugars, especially for children and adolescents. In fact, per person intake of calories from soft drinks increased 70 percent from 1970 to 2000. A recent study in adolescents found that added sugars in the diet were associated with a reduction of good (HDL) cholesterol and an increase in bad (LDL) cholesterol—both heart disease risk factors.

This is no wonder when you consider that when Coke first came out in 1915, the bottle was 6.5 ounces. Today, it is not unusual to gulp down a 44- (or even 64-) ounce soft drink. Most soft drinks contain high fructose corn syrup as the sugar source. High fructose corn syrup (sometimes disguised as corn sugar) is of particular concern due to its widespread presence in processed foods, the fact that it is absorbed and metabolized differently than sugar, and that it may contain mercury!

As a general rule, reducing all forms of added sugar is recommended. Increased intake of added sugars in the diet lead to heart disease in several ways. When there is too much sugar in the blood (more than cells can use for energy), the sugar (or glucose) is converted into triglycerides, which can be stored as body fat or remain in circulation contributing to atherosclerosis. Further, sugar increases inflammation and oxidative stress, both involved in atherosclerosis.

 Your best bet for good heart health? DECREASE your intake of refined and added sugars, trans and saturated fats, and INCREASE fiber (which slows the absorption of sugar) by eating more fruits and veggies and whole grains.

Boost Your Immune System With a Better Outlook

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 02/14/2011


Weekly challenge (I mean, opportunity!) to help set you off on the right foot and in the right direction for bringing health to your week. You could even add it to your calendar. Join us!

An interesting study published last year found that optimism boosts the immune response. That’s right—filling your half empty cup to half full can improve your immune system’s response to infection.  Who knew it could be that easy?

Study participants were law students. They were found to have increased immune response when their outlook about law school was more positive, and decreased response when they were feeling more pessimistic about it. Though the students’ general outlook on life (optimistic or pessimistic) did not have an effect on results, having an optimistic or pessimistic disposition with regard to specific, important events was associated with immune function.

This doesn’t mean that you need to go about your day being cheerful and optimistic about every little thing. There is a need to be realistic at times. But if you find yourself getting caught up in something that might not be as bad as it seems, try to cultivate a little optimism—for your immune system! It may even lead to a solution that you hadn’t considered.

Medicated Hearts

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 02/11/2011


The recommended prescription medication for high cholesterol is usually statin drugs. These drugs are widely prescribed for people with high total cholesterol, and particularly those with high LDL (bad) cholesterol levels. Recently, it was recommended that people with high levels of the inflammation marker C-reactive protein (hsCRP) in their blood should also be taking statins. High CRP indicates systemic inflammation, another risk factor for heart disease. However, people with high CRP can have normal, and even low, amounts of cholesterol.

 To further extend the reach of statin drugs, even obese children are now prescribed statins if their cholesterol levels are high. This has met with some controversy, as there have been no long-term studies on the health effects of long-term statin treatment in children.

 A recent study is trying to reign in the statin prescription epidemic by suggesting that statin drugs are overprescribed. The Johns Hopkins study, presented at the American Heart Association’s annual Scientific Sessions, found that almost 95 percent of heart attacks, strokes, or heart-related deaths occurred in people who had a measurable amount of calcium buildup in the arteries.

 The researchers found that patients on statin drugs who had no calcium buildup in their arteries only suffered five percent of heart-disease-related events. This means that the drugs may not be offering any protection in these people, yet as many as five percent of all people on statins experience severe side effects, which includes diabetes in some people.

The researchers recommend that only those patients at greatest risk, especially those with high coronary calcium scores, be given statins. Luckily, diet and lifestyle factors like exercise and stress reduction help to lower some of the risk factors for heart disease. Talk with your doctor about your options.

Omega-3 Oils and Heart Health

Filed in General | Posted by lsmith on 02/09/2011


There is a definite connection between having a healthy heart and consuming Omega-3 fatty acids (especially EPA and DHA) found in fish oils.  Though many studies on the heart benefits of fish oil exist, we need look no further than this month’s issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. In this edition there are no fewer than four articles pointing to the amazing heart-healthy benefits of fish oils.

The first article shows that taking larger doses of EPA and DHA significantly lowers triglyceride levels in healthy people with hypertriglyceridemia (high triglycerides).  This is not new news, however. The American Heart Association recommends two to four grams of EPA/DHA daily for people with high triglycerides.1   Chronically high levels of triglycerides promote heart disease.

The second article points out how dietary omega-3 fatty acid supplementation increases the rate of muscle protein synthesis in older adults.2 Since the heart is our most important muscle, it would certainly apply to the heart as well as to skeletal muscle.  Simply by preventing skeletal muscle wasting (sarcopenia), it will benefit the heart.  Loss of skeletal muscle, or sarcopenia, will decrease mobility and exercise tolerance, and gradually lead to chronic low grade inflammation and elevated blood sugar—both of which negatively impact the heart health.

The third article suggests that omega-3 and soy isoflavone supplementation provide an effective means of reducing arterial stiffness.3 Arterial stiffness is an indicator of poor function of the inner lining of arteries (endothelium) which eventually leads to arterial narrowing and clotting of the arteries (atherosclerosis).  As this process continues, congestive heart failure, heart attacks, and arrhythmias are likely to occur.

The fourth article refers to the Mediterranean diet (high in EPA and DHA from fish), which reduces endothelial damage and improves the regenerative capacity of endothelium.4 They point out again that endothelial dysfunction is a fundamental step in the atherosclerotic disease process.

These articles are part of a growing body of evidence on the many ways fish oil can help maintain a healthy heart.

  1. A.C. Skulas-Ray, et al., “Dose-response effects of omega-3 fatty acids on triglycerides, inflammation, and endothelial function in healthy persons with moderate hypertriglyceridemia.”Am J Clin Nutr. 2011 Feb;93(2):243-52.
  2. G.I. Smith, et al., “Dietary omega-3 fatty acid supplementation increases the rate of muscle protein synthesis in older adults: a randomized controlled trial.” Am J Clin Nutr. 2011 Feb;93(2):402-12.
  3. M.P. Pace, et al., “The effects of dietary and nutrient interventions on arterial stiffness: a systematic review.” Am J Clin Nutr. 2011 Feb;93(2):446-54. Epub 2010 Dec 8.
  4. C. Marin, et al., “Mediterranean diet reduces endothelial damage and improves the regenerative capacity of endothelium.” Am J Clin Nutr. 2011 Feb;93(2):267-74. Epub 2010 Dec 1.

Love Your Heart—If Not For You, Do It For Someone You Love

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 02/07/2011


Renew You Challenge

Let’s start this week off right!

Weekly challenge (I mean, opportunity!) to help set you off on the right foot and in the right direction for bringing health to your week. You could even add it to your calendar. Join us!

With February being American Heart Month, I’d like to raise some awareness about heart disease in women. Many people think of heart disease as an “older man’s disease,” but women actually account for nearly 50 percent of heart disease-related deaths.

The problem is, many women are so busy taking care of their families that the last thing on the list is taking care of themselves. Women are stressed, sleep-deprived, overweight, and depressed—and all of this affects heart health. To all those women who are stretching themselves to the limit, take heed: If you don’t care of yourself, eventually, you won’t be able to take care of your families. So if you won’t do it for yourself, do it for someone you love.

Take a step back and look at your life. What changes can you make that will help bring you back to a healthier you? Start small. Learn some new recipes. Find a walking buddy. Get your blood lipid levels checked, and if they’re not within healthy levels find out what you can do about it. Don’t do it for yourself—do it for your loved ones.