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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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      Healthy pH levels, whether in the colon or systemic, are found when you eat a high-fiber diet, high in vegetables and fruits, healthy proteins, and healthy fats. Complement this with foods and supplements high in beneficial bacteria, omega-3 fatty acids, and digestive enzymes, and you will be supporting optimal health (which begins in the digestive system).

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Gluten Sensitivity—Not Just a Fad

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 04/29/2011

I’m really excited about a couple of new studies on gluten sensitivity. I have been talking about this condition for so long, knowing that it contributes to many different health conditions in the body. The science is only beginning to scratch the surface of what clinicians have been seeing for years in patients who suddenly feel better after removing gluten from the diet.

A new study published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology (yes, you heard me—gluten sensitivity is hitting the “big time” folks) has validated the fact that gluten sensitivity is not just “all in their heads.” This double-blind randomized placebo-controlled trial recruited people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) whose symptoms improved after following a gluten free diet. These patients, in whom celiac disease was ruled out, were then put into two groups: one group was re-challenged with foods containing gluten and the other group was given “placebo” foods that did not contain gluten.

The results? In the group receiving the gluten-containing foods there was a significant increase in bloating, abdominal pain, altered bowel pattern and fatigue. Surprise, surprise! This is something that I have seen in people for years, and that the natural health community has known for a long time. But to see it published in this prestigious journal gives me hope that we will be taken more seriously with regard to the knowledge we are spreading about the damage that gluten can cause in many people.

This study is only the beginning, and will surely trigger many new studies that seek to discover just what is occurring in gluten sensitivity and why. The study helps to not only put gluten sensitivity on the map, so to speak, but also to explain one of the triggers to the ever-elusive IBS. We have known that gut infections can trigger IBS, and now we know that gluten sensitivity may also be a trigger. Again, this is something that I have been saying for many years.

And that’s not all! Another study reported in the Wall Street Journal and published in BMC Medicine has determined that gluten sensitivity and celiac disease involve two different branches of the immune system. Gluten sensitivity involves the innate immune system, which is responsible for the initial inflammatory response that occurs when the body encounters a “foreign” invader—in this case, gluten. Celiac disease, on the other hand, was found to involve the adaptive immune system, which involves a more complex secondary immune response that identifies the foreign invaders so that they will be recognized each time they are subsequently encountered.

Very interesting is that the difference between these two conditions was related to intestinal permeability—leaky gut. Those people with celiac disease were more likely to have leaky gut, while those with gluten sensitivity had not developed leaky gut—YET! What I think they will find is that gluten sensitivity is the first, milder reaction that worsens, increases leaky gut, and becomes full blown celiac disease. It’s a progression, and if you don’t take control of it early, it can lead to many different health conditions.

If you think you are gluten sensitive, try a gluten-free diet (no cheating—I’m not kidding!) for at least six weeks (even up to 6 months or more depending on your condition) to see if you begin to feel better. Today, there are many gluten-free options. Be sure to include plenty of fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, good fats, and whole, gluten-free grains. You’ll be on your way to wellness.

Dietary Supplement Safety

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 04/27/2011

The American Association of Poison Control Centers recently published their annual report—174 pages documenting 2009 data from all 61 poison control centers across the U.S. In this report, there were no deaths reported from any vitamin, amino acid, herb, or dietary mineral supplement.

And the dietary supplement industry has been touted as “dangerous and unregulated.” Ha! Let’s take a closer look at the Poison Control Report. Medications were the leading cause of poisoning deaths in 2009. Analgesics (pain relievers), sedatives, hypnotics, and antipsychotics were the medications most frequently involved in poison-related deaths.

Drug-related deaths are a major concern in the U.S. Medication errors are a particular problem, with about 1.5 million people harmed by these mistakes each year. Fully 7,000 of these mistakes result in death, according to a 2006 Institute of Medicine study.

It certainly puts things in perspective. I’m glad to see that with increasing scrutiny of the dietary supplement industry, natural products are becoming more widely known to be safe and effective. Dietary supplements have only recently been included in the Poison Control Center reports, and so far are proving to be far safer than pharmaceutical medications, despite the bad press.

Score Your Local Pollution

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 04/25/2011

Here is a cool site that will give you tons of information on local pollution. Just enter your zip code to see how your county and state stack up to others in terms of air and water quality. Check out your in-home lead risk and look for local superfund sites. Find the top polluters in your community and learn about environmental justice. Then you can take steps to reduce this pollution by sending a message to the top polluters, or to local government officials.

This is a great site that will give you a lot of info on how polluted your community is. Check it out!

High Fiber Intake and Longevity

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 04/22/2011

A very interesting study was just published in the journal Archives of Internal Medicine documenting the association between high dietary fiber intake and lower risk of dying from some of the most common killers—heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. This was a huge study with over 388,000 participants aged 50 to 71.

The nine-year study looked at dietary fiber intake and found men’s intake ranged from 13 to 29 grams per day, and women’s fiber intake from 11 to 26 grams per day. Over a nine-year period, those who had the highest intake of fiber (29.4 grams in men and 25.8 grams in women) had a 22 percent lower risk of dying from certain diseases than those participants who consumed the lowest levels of fiber. Subjects with the highest daily intake of fiber were at lower risk of dying from cardiovascular disease and infectious and respiratory disease compared with the lower fiber intake group.

Researchers noted that fiber “has been hypothesized to lower the risk of coronary heart disease, diabetes, some cancers, obesity, and premature death because it is known to:

  • Improve laxation by increasing bulk and reducing transit time of feces through the bowel;
  • Increase excretion of bile acid, estrogen, and fecal procarcinogens and carcinogens by binding to them;
  • Lower serum cholesterol levels;
  • Slow glucose absorption and improve insulin sensitivity;
  • Lower blood pressure;
  • Promote weight loss;
  • Inhibit lipid peroxidation; and
  • Have anti-inflammatory properties.”

I recommend at least 35 grams of fiber daily for those very reasons noted above. High daily intake of fiber has so many health benefits. Unfortunately, however, the average American only consumes between 10 and 15 grams daily— and that’s not nearly enough.

It can be difficult to obtain 35 grams of fiber from the diet, so fiber supplements are a great way to increase fiber intake. In addition, consuming plenty of whole grains, fruits and vegetables (and fewer bad fats, refined grains and sugars) will help to boost your daily fiber intake.

Toxicity, Take Two: It’s in the Air We Breathe

Filed in General | Posted by lsmith on 04/20/2011

Brenda and I have been talking for years about the toxic soup that we all live in. It’s in our food, in the water, in the air and in our own bodies. It’s impossible to completely avoid toxins, and that’s a problem, especially in light of the scientific evidence that shows environmental toxins are destroying our health.

Many recent studies have looked at air pollution and its many harmful effects. It has been known for some time that exposure to air pollution is associated with health conditions like asthma, cardiovascular disease and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). In fact, polluted air can even create serious ventricular arrhythmias.1 Also, the incidence of heart attacks in rush hour traffic in the United Kingdom are thought to be due to the polluted air. In support of this is a quote from the August 2005 Environmental Health Perspectives (EHP) referring to particle laden dirty air, “Ultrafine particles < 0.1 µm (UFPs) dominate particle number concentrations and surface area, and are therefore capable of carrying large concentrations of adsorbed or condensed toxic air pollutants. It is likely that redox-active components in UFPs from fossil fuel combustion reach cardiovascular target sites. High UFP exposures may lead to systemic inflammation through oxidative stress responses to reactive oxygen species and thereby promote the progression of atherosclerosis, and precipitate acute cardiovascular responses ranging from increased blood pressure to myocardial infarction.”2

The studies on this topic keep rolling in. The latest issue of EHP published a study on the link between prenatal exposure to air pollutants and subsequent behavioral problems in children.3 Children with the highest levels of pollution exposure had more attention problems, anxiety and depression at age 5 to 7 than those children with the least exposure. It is also known that exposure to organophosphate pesticides found on foods is linked to ADHD symptoms, by the way. And we wonder why ADHD is on the rise.

Other new studies continue to support just how air pollution affects health. One study in animals found that chronic inhalation of polluted air triggered inflammation that spread throughout the body.4 To quote one of the researchers, “Our main hypothesis is that particulate matter stimulates inflammation in the lung, and products of that inflammation spill over into the body’s circulation, traveling to fat tissue to promote inflammation and causing vascular dysfunction.”

This comes as no surprise to me. Inflammation is involved in most every disease, and certainly plays a role in all chronic diseases. Inflammation can be triggered by a number of factors—toxins, stress, illness, digestive imbalance—and it can travel throughout the body causing disease.

Another recent study, again published in EHP, found that short term exposure to air pollution damaged areas of the brain associated with memory loss and Alzheimer’s disease in mice.4 Guess what the study found? The brains affected by air pollution showed signs of inflammation associated with premature aging and Alzheimer’s disease.

Finally, the New England Journal of Medicine showed that reductions in air pollution accounted for as much as 15% of the overall increase in life expectancy in the areas that were studied!6

It’s difficult to know just how to avoid all this pollution, but there are things we can do to reduce toxicity. First, use high efficiency particulate air filters (HEPA filters) throughout your house (or at least your bedroom), and in your car cabin. According to Carla Kalogeridis at the Filter Manufacturers Council, only 40 percent of North American vehicles have cabin air filters despite the ongoing concern of consumers regarding cabin air quality.7 Others say as many as 80% or more now have cabin filters. I couldn’t find a clear answer from the www.epa.gov site, but did find where they recommended a portable cabin filter.8 In any case if you have a cabin filter they generally need to be replaced annually or every 15,000 miles. The filters can be easily bought from the dealers or online9 with instructions on how to change them at home.

If you can avoid daily bumper-to-bumper traffic jams, that’s a good start, and if you can’t it would be very wise to change your cabin air filter. If your vehicle doesn’t have one there are portables available.8 Eating a healthy diet high in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats and lean proteins will help your body get many nutrients and fiber it needs. Reduce inflammation with omega-3 oils, and quell gut inflammation with probiotics. And support the body’s seven channels of elimination: colon, liver, lungs, lymph, kidneys, skin and blood with nutrients that promote the healthy function of these channels, plus periodic colon hydrotherapy, and infrared sauna. Lastly, find stress-reducing activities including exercise and meditation to round out a healthy lifestyle. All of the above strategies will help to keep your detoxification pathways open.

  1. M.S. Link and D.W. Dockery, “Air pollution and the triggering of cardiac arrhythmias.” Curr Opin Cardiol. 2010 Jan;25(1):16-22.
  2. R.J. Delfino, et al., “Potential role of ultrafine particles in associations between airborne particle mass and cardiovascular health.” Environ Health Perspect. 2005 Aug;113(8):934-46.
  3. F.P. Perera, et al., “PAH/Aromatic DNA Adducts in Cord Blood and Behavior Scores in New York City Children.” Environ Health Perspect. 2011 Apr 4.
  4. T. Kampfrath, et al., “Chronic Fine Particulate Matter Exposure Induces Systemic Vascular Dysfunction via NADPH Oxidase and TLR4 Pathways.” Circ Res. 2011 Mar 18;108(6):716-26.
  5. T.E. Morgan, et al., “Glutamatergic neurons in rodent models respond to nanoscale particulate urban air pollutants in vivo and in vitro.” Environ Health Perspect. 2011 Apr 4.
  6. C.A. Cope, et al., “Fine-particulate air pollution and life expectancy in the United States.” N Engl J Med. 2009 Jan 22;360(4):376-86.
  7. http://www.ehow.com/about_6404803_hepa-cabin-filter_.html#ixzz1JnfTQzQA
  8. http://www.epa.gov/nhsrc/pubs/TISPortableMotorVehicleCabinAirPurifier.pdf
  9. www.filters-now.com

Standard American Diet in Toddlers = Lower IQ

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 04/18/2011

As it turns out, 3-year-old children who consume a diet high in processed foods are more likely to have a lower IQ by the age of 8 when compared to children who eat either a traditional meat and potatoes diet, or a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, salads, rice and pasta. A recent study tracked almost 4,000 children from age 3 to age 8 ½ to determine effects on IQ of different dietary patterns. Findings in this study reflect those of other dietary studies in children that link behavior and school performance with dietary factors.

So this week, if you know a toddler, begin sharing healthy foods with the child. The brain develops most rapidly during the first three years of life. If you can instill good eating habits at this early age, just imagine the possibilities!

Diet and Behavior in ADHD

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 04/15/2011

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or ADD as it used to be called, affects 5% of children worldwide. A recent study published in the journal Lancet evaluated the effects of a restrictive elimination diet on ADHD symptoms in children aged 4–8. The diet consisted of rice, meat, vegetables, pears and water for five weeks. Symptoms improved in 78% of the children. If that’s not a gut connection, I don’t know what is!

Certain foods and food additives have been suspected to play a role in the development of ADHD for quite some time now, but it’s a controversial topic. I love that this study was published in such a prominent journal. Though more studies need to be done to determine just what foods should be avoided, and how long a restricted diet can be followed safely, researchers are on the right track. The gut-brain connection is an interesting one, and this study shows us why.

Can it really be that foods we eat affect our behavior? YES!!! Our intestinal tracts are one of our main connections to the outside world. What we put into our bellies will affect the rest of our bodies, especially our brains. 

Remember though, if you suspect food sensitivities may be affecting your child, be sure to work with a holistic-minded doctor. It is essential that children receive enough nutrients from their diets. Even the diet used in this study is only recommended for five weeks. Work with a doctor to find the best options for your child.

Celiac Increasing in Elderly

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 04/13/2011

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease involving a reaction in the gut to gliadin, the gluten protein found in wheat, barley and rye. This gut reaction destroys the body’s own intestinal lining cells, a process known as autoimmunity. The treatment of celiac disease is complete avoidance of gluten and gluten-containing foods. If not treated properly, the autoimmunity can manifest in other areas of the body, like the joints or the thyroid gland.

A recent study set out to determine at what age people develop celiac disease. Every 15 years since 1974 the number of people with celiac disease has doubled. As it turns out, the incidence of celiac disease in the elderly is almost two and a half times higher than the general population. This counters the previous perception that celiac disease usually develops during childhood.

So what factors may be leading to this late-life loss of tolerance to gluten?

Studies will need to be done to determine the exact environmental triggers, but I suspect that these people may have been living for years with either silent celiac disease (yes, celiac can exist in the gut with no symptoms at all) or the milder form of gluten sensitivity.

So many people improve their health status when they eliminate gluten. Why wait until you’re elderly to find out what it might do? Try a gluten-free diet if you think that you might be sensitive.

Don’t Forget Your Exercise!

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 04/11/2011

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!

For a long time it was thought that once the brain degrades with age, it’s not possible to reverse. Lucky for us that is simply not true. With age, one area of the brain that begins to shrink is the hippocampus. The hippocampus is a main brain component that processes memory, and one of the first areas to degrade with Alzheimer’s disease.

The good news is that regular exercise—specifically, walking three times per week for 40 to 60 minutes—has been found to increase the size of the hippocampus in previously sedentary adults who had already experienced shrinking of the hippocampus. Wow!

One of the researchers stated, “The toughest part isn’t the research, it’s convincing people to get off the couch.”

Well, I’m here to do just that. This week, if you aren’t already meeting that minimal amount of exercise (or you know someone who isn’t), send them this blog and let them know that even a small amount of exercise can make the difference. So get off that couch!

Start out with just 15 minutes per day, three days a week. From there, build up gradually until you’re at 40 to 60 minutes. Your hippocampus will thank you, and you might just remember where you put your keys.

Ultra-Processed Food is Making Us Fat and Sick

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 04/08/2011

We often think of processed food, in general, as being not as healthy as fresh food.  But unfortunately, it is becoming increasingly difficult to see processed foods as unhealthy with labels like, “reduced fat,” “natural,” or even “organic.” The truth is, while organic processed foods may be a little better for you than traditional processed foods, it’s better to minimize their consumption altogether.

A recent report published in the Journal of the World Public Health Nutrition Association has grouped processed foods into three types:

Type One Processing does not much alter the nutritional quality of food, and can sometimes even improve it. This type of processing involves cleaning, removing inedible parts, grating, squeezing, drying, parboiling, freezing, etc.

Type Two Processing involves extracting or purifying certain substances from the original food. This may include pressing, milling, refining, hydrogenating, using enzymes or additives, etc.

Type Three Processing involves the creation of durable, accessible, convenient, attractive, ready-to-eat or ready-to-heat products that are excessive in total fat, bad fats, sugar and sodium, and low in micronutrients, other bioactive compounds and dietary fiber.

The report outlines how Type Three processed foods are the biggest problem when it comes to obesity, because the finished products, even though they are often presented as healthy, are by their very nature quite unhealthy.

Here is the report:

The Big Issue is Ultra-Processing