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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.

  • Skin Health
    • 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.

  • Brain Health
    • 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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Taking Antibiotics for a Bad Cold? Not so Good.

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 03/30/2011


Over-prescription of antibiotics contributes to antibiotic resistance and affects the ability of bacteria to survive antibiotic treatment.  That’s very important because if antibiotics do not work for infections, there isn’t much else that will.  Now that’s scary!

A recent study of patients hospitalized for respiratory infections found that in those who were diagnosed with a viral infection (antibiotics will not help a viral infection) and who also had a normal chest x-ray (which detects pneumonia, which is often a bacterial infection), 63 percent were still prescribed antibiotics!  Is it perhaps just habit to prescribe them? 

Surprise, surprise:  Those patients were found to not benefit from the antibiotic treatment and, in fact, some went on to develop the antibiotic-associated Clostridium difficile infection.

This over-prescription of antibiotics is widespread, and is putting people at risk of developing dangerous infections, like C. diff, MRSA, E. coli and Klebsiella infections. In fact, two bacteria strains that carry a specific gene (NDM-1) have recently been in the news. Why?  Because bacteria that carry this gene are resistant to almost all antibiotics, including the last-resort antibiotics currently being used when the more common ones fail.

Next time your doctor wants to prescribe an antibiotic, make sure that it’s being used for a bacterial infection, and not a viral infection.

Baby’s First Food Shouldn’t Be White

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 03/28/2011


For over 60 years now, it has been recommended that baby’s first food be white rice cereal mixed with either breast milk or regular milk. Rice is known for being well-tolerated by babies’ sensitive digestive tracts due to its low allergen status.  Recommending white rice as baby’s first food is coming under scrutiny, however, and I agree.

White rice is a highly refined product. In processing, it is stripped of fiber, vitamins and other beneficial nutrients.  What’s left is little more than a simple carbohydrate—the very food that leads to the development of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. The risk of these diseases seems far off when we are talking about infants, but experts believe that starting off a baby’s diet with white rice cereal may be setting the stage for unhealthy eating habits to come.

So this week’s challenge is to substitute brown rice cereal for white rice cereal in the diet of a baby you know. This simple substitution could be the beginning of better dietary choices later in life.

Antibiotics Often Unnecessary for Ear Infection

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 03/25/2011


Unnecessary antibiotic use is a common practice, especially in pediatric medicine. Children with ear infections are often prescribed antibiotics, which often aren’t necessary. A recent analysis of 135 published studies found that most kids who see a doctor for ear infection do not need an antibiotic.

The review, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) determined that 80 percent of children with ear infections will get better on their own in about three days. When antibiotics are prescribed, this number only increases to 92 percent, but comes with many side effects—three in ten will develop a rash in reaction to the medication, five in ten more will get diarrhea, and an unpredictable number will be at risk of developing antibiotic resistance

Experts encourage doctors to give parents a “safety-net antibiotic prescription,” which is a prescription that parents take home and only use if the child does not improve after three days. This reduces the amount of office visits necessary (which can be one reason for parents to push early prescriptions), and reduces the number of children who take antibiotics unnecessarily.

I see so many people with digestive issues that stem from repeated antibiotic use as a child, and  I know how destructive that can be first hand. The long-term consequences of unnecessary antibiotics can wreak havoc on a person’s digestive system.  They did mine, and it took a long time (and the right supplements) for me to get back to vibrant health.  The more we know about safe ways to avoid antibiotics, the better. 

So the next time one of your little ones has an ear infection, talk to your doctor about a three-day safety-net antibiotic prescription. In the meantime, a bedtime dose of ibuprofen was recommended for best relief.

As always, when taking antibiotics, a probiotic should be taken (not within the same 2 hours) during and after, to help replenish the healthy gut bacteria that are depleted with antibiotic use.

Acne vulgaris, probiotics and the gut-brain-skin axis – back to the future?

Filed in General | Posted by lsmith on 03/23/2011


The title of this article has been taken directly from the journal Gut Pathogens January 2011, and can be accessed for free at www.gutpathogens.com. This article tells the story of the gut connection. As we have been preaching for years, there is good evidence of a connection between gut bacteria and most (if not all) of the body organs, including the skin and brain.  What’s more, the above article presents much new, refined information, but the basic information is included from published references from 80-90 years ago!

Read, and be informed of the following concepts presented:

1.  The regular consumption of fat, sugar and simple carbs low in fiber, will decrease the beneficial bifidobacteria and other probiotic species in the colon and terminal small intestine (the end of the small intestine).

2.  Low  bifidobacteria allows increases of other bacteria that may promote colonic lining (epithelium) inflammation, with increased free radical damage and oxidative stress that leads to increased intestinal permeability (IP), or leaky gut.

3.  Increased IP leads to the passage (or translocation) of partially digested food particles, bacterial toxins, and other bacterial byproducts including fat (or lipids) from dead bacterial cell walls.

4.  Bacterial cell wall lipids known as lipopolysaccarides (LPS), or also bacterial toxins, are easily measured in the blood, and are important indicators of how much overactivity will occur in the immune system.  Elevated LPS is very likely to occur after eating your favorite ice cream, or even too much bacon and eggs with toast and jelly (high fat, high sugar, and low fiber).

5.  Elevated blood levels of LPS cause the immune system to increase production of inflammatory markers (pro-inflammatory cytokines). These markers can cause many negative reactions, including decreased insulin receptor sensitivity, and thereby elevate blood sugar and insulin levels.

6.  Chronically elevated blood sugar and insulin promote increase in blood lipids, and  increase in inflammation which can contribute to acne, anxiety and depression, among other conditions.

Here is the good news,  a  high-fiber diet found in vegetables, whole grains, legumes, seeds and nuts, with some low glycemic fruits (especially berries) will promote high-normal levels of bifidobacteria. Taking prebiotic fibers was also shown in this article to increase bifidobacteria, and supplementing with bifidobacteria probiotics or fermented foods will definitely have overall beneficial effects on the body, including the skin and the brain.

Shopping for Real Food

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 03/21/2011


This week, your challenge is to grocery shop with a plan, (or a mission, rather)! Print out this flow chart, from SummerTomato.com, and you’ll be well on your way to filling your basket with real foods. That is, unprocessed, unrefined, unadulterated real foods.

It can be hard to determine what is healthy these days. It seems like there is a healthy version of every junk food known to man. Organic chips! Natural mac-n-cheese! Gluten-free chicken nuggets! Have we forgotten that there is a plethora of whole foods, in their actual, natural form, found all throughout your local store?

Use this flowchart to help you find them! Good luck out there.

Probiotics and Mama’s Belly

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 03/18/2011


It is well known that probiotics are beneficial for the digestive tract. Indeed, these beneficial gut bacteria outnumber cells in the body (and their genes GREATLY outnumber our own genes).

Scientists have taken the research of probiotics beyond the gut lately, finding that their effects are far reaching. A recent study in pregnant women found that daily administration of two probiotic strains—Lactobacillus rhamnosus and Bifidobacterium lactis—along with dietary counseling during the first trimester of pregnancy resulted in reduced waist circumferences six months after giving birth.

Three groups were involved; one taking probiotics along with counseling, one taking a placebo along with counseling, and one taking a placebo without counseling. The probiotic + counseling group had the lowest percentage of women with waists measuring over 31.5 inches at the end of the study.

It has long been known that probiotics are beneficial during pregnancy, both for mom and baby, and studies continue to support their many advantages.  I recently talked about probiotics protecting against development of gestational diabetes.

Research of probiotics and metabolic outcomes like abdominal fat and weight loss is relatively new. With obesity rates at an all-time high, going back to the gut in order to build a strong foundation of health is essential. Whether pregnant or not, when our guts are out of balance, the rest of the body suffers. Begin with balancing the gut, and good health for the rest of the body will follow.

Diarrhea + Probiotics = Less Suffering

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 03/16/2011


A recent Cochrane Systematic Review, which involves an extensive review of the scientific literature, found that probiotics are effective at reducing diarrhea. The results were similar across all 63 different trials that were analyzed.

A separate review was done for trials involving children with persistent diarrhea. Though only four trials were available for review, results showed that probiotics can reduce the length of time of an episode of persistent diarrhea.

Diarrhea often occurs as a result of infection by many different organisms. This results in a big imbalance in the ratio of good to bad bacteria, so probiotics, (also known as good bacteria), are sometimes recommended as a way to repopulate the gut and bring balance back to the intestines. Indeed, if the Cochrane Review is confirming this, you can’t get more mainstream than that. 

More research needs to be done on specific strains of bacteria and on preventing the progression from short-term to persistent diarrhea. But probiotic therapy can be used safely in addition to rehydration fluids, which are also given during diarrhea treatment.

Diarrhea can be a serious condition. If you are experiencing an episode of diarrhea, talk with your doctor about taking probiotics to help rebalance your gut.

Take Control of Your Health

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 03/14/2011


A recent national survey of doctors and hospitalized patients found that only 48% of patients said they were involved in decisions about their treatment. What’s even more alarming, 29% didn’t know who was in charge of their case while they were hospitalized.

This got me to thinking about how we often place control of our health completely into the hands of our doctors. Now don’t get me wrong—doctors are usually an important part of our healing paths—but it is essential that we stay informed about our condition and treatment, and that we are the ones who ultimately decide what treatment we receive. 

Think about it. How often have you felt helpless in the hands of your doctor(s)? Have you ever felt like there were no real choices in the treatment of your ailment? A lot of you are probably nodding your heads.

This week, I want you to think about the role you play in the decision-making process when it comes to your health. Think about how you can strengthen that role, and become more informed and in control of your health. Some questions to consider:

  • How do you communicate with your health care practitioner? Do you feel comfortable telling them everything? Or do you leave out certain details? Do you get nervous, or even angry, when communicating with him/her? Does your doctor listen to everything you have to say?
  • Do you inform yourself about your health? If you have a health condition, do you know how it’s treated with standard medicine? Do you know what natural alternatives you have? Do you know your options? Do you know a lot about the condition and what may have lead to its development?
  • If you are taking medications, do you know the possible side effects, or safety issues? Do you talk with your doctor or pharmacist about any concerns you may have regarding your medications, or their interactions?
  • Finally, are you honest with yourself about doing all you can to better your health? Do you tend to fall into the same old patterns because they are comfortable, and you think that change is too difficult, or even impossible?

What might be stopping you from taking control of your health? Think about it. Then start thinking about how you can take more charge over your well being.

Your GPS—What Went Wrong?

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 03/11/2011


I like to call the proper balance of gut bacteria your “GPS”—your Gut Protection System. Your GPS works to: protect your intestinal lining; “crowd out” and neutralize the harmful bacteria; and influence the immune system so that it responds in the proper way to harmful invaders like bacteria, toxins, and even undigested food particles.

Your GPS might not be properly balanced—and you may not even know it. Sure, some people experience obvious digestive symptoms like gas and bloating, or heartburn, but some people don’t exhibit digestive symptoms, yet still have a gut imbalance. A malfunctioning GPS can have far-reaching health consequences. For example, many mood disorders, like depression and anxiety, are closely linked to gut health. Rheumatoid arthritis—how much further from the gut could you get?—is also known to be associated with gut imbalances. The list goes on and on. Read about it in my new book, The Road to Perfect Health, available exclusively through my PBS special of the same title. (Check your local PBS listings for show times.)

So, how does your GPS malfunction? Well, there are a number of ways. I’ll highlight some here:

Exposure to chemicals

  • Certain medications (like antibiotics and acid-suppressing medications)
  • Over processed and refined foods (I call them Dead Foods)
  • Low stomach acid

In today’s world, it can be hard to avoid some of these triggers. That’s why it’s best to balance your gut with beneficial probiotic bacteria to get your GPS up and running. As I say: Balance your gut, heal your body.

Probiotics in Early Life

Filed in General | Posted by lsmith on 03/09/2011


I think the term probiotics is a good name for the beneficial microbes that inhabit the intestinal tract of human beings. Probiotics literally means “for life.” There are many ways in which probiotics function “for life,” for without them we would be seriously ill and succumb to many different diseases.

Modern science, on an almost daily basis, is discovering just how helpful our beneficial microflora (probiotics) can be. Beneficial microflora include mainly bacteria, but also some fungi or yeasts, even some parasites, and possibly viruses in certain cases. We do know that we have over 1000 species of bacteria, and over 100 trillion microorganisms of various types living inside of us. At the present time we do not know the exact percentage of beneficial microflora (or probiotics) living within us at any given time, but we do know it is wise to regularly replace the probiotic species.

Lack of beneficial bacteria in newborn children creates a situation that can range from overgrowth of pathogenic bacteria and fungi at one end of the spectrum, to immune deficiency at the other end (probiotics literally help develop our immunity). It is well known that newborn children do not have fully competent immune systems at birth and for several months thereafter. However, some children are less immune responsive than others in the first year of life. This is a big issue because it is also well known that many children receiving vaccines in the first year of life are unable to respond appropriately and benefit from the vaccines. This results in either no or low antibody levels (or titres) to the vaccine in the blood, which is easily measurable. In addition, it is well accepted that there can be side effects ranging from minor to quite significant in response to an immature immune system receiving a given vaccine.

So here is the good news. A recent double-blind, placebo-controlled study showed that newborns that were given probiotics versus the placebo had better antibody titers to their vaccine (meaning the vaccine worked), and also had fewer side effects than the placebo group.1 Though this is a small study that was only slightly statistically significant, it certainly points the way toward more liberal use of probiotics, either as supplements or cultured drinks and foods—both for mom during pregnancy and breastfeeding, and for the newborn child.

Another important health tip for pregnant ladies: consider getting a vaginal culture a few weeks before delivery. If you are low in the beneficial vaginal microflora, start supplementing so that if you are fortunate enough to have a vaginal delivery, you will inoculate your baby during the birthing process. What’s more, it is during breastfeeding that the baby naturally receives the bifidobacteria that are so important for colon health. For those who have a C-section and/or don’t breast feed, it is even more critical to supplement with probiotics. In my opinion, I think everyone should take probiotics on a regular basis.

I. Youngster, et al., “Probiotics and the immunological response to infant vaccinations: a prospective, placebo controlled pilot study.” Arch Dis Child. 2011 Jan 24.