• Gut Health
  • Heart Health
    • 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 .

  • Diet & Health
    • Diet & Health

      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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    • Pet Health

      Our dog’s health is precious! They provide us with unconditional love and companionship. A daily probiotic formula is a great way to ensure good health. Make sure you choose one that delivers the recommended potency level and strain count. There is nothing quite like a healthy and happy dog. Happy Dog. Happy Life!

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The Ups and Downs of Heart Health

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 05/30/2011


 

Optimum heart health involves paying attention to a lot of different factors. There’s cholesterol (but not just cholesterol—there’s good cholesterol, bad cholesterol, total cholesterol, oh my!), triglycerides, blood pressure, and inflammation markers like C-reactive protein – not to mention omega-3 levels and even vitamin D! Trying to look after your ticker is enough to make your head spin.

Let’s break it down. First of all, there are different types of heart disease, but atherosclerosis takes the cake. Atherosclerosis involves a buildup of plaque in the artery walls, causing a thickening of the arteries, which blocks blood flow. Eventually the plaque can rupture, causing a blood clot, which can even lead to stroke or death.

Cholesterol levels are usually first on everyone’s mind when it comes to heart health. You want to have plenty of good (HDL) cholesterol, and not too much bad (LDL) cholesterol, all the while making sure your total cholesterol is at the right level. Whew! Next—triglycerides. Those can’t be too high either. Then there’s inflammation. Inflammation takes many forms in the body, but one way it can be measured is with a blood test for C-reactive protein (hsCRP).

All this usually begins with poor diet, lack of exercise and chronic systemic inflammation (which can be caused by a number of factors, including digestive imbalance). Fortunately, this is one condition that can be stopped in its tracks and even reversed. But it’s up to you to stop it.

Take a look at your diet. Are you eating plenty of vegetables, fruits, whole gains, lean proteins, healthy fats and plenty of water? Do you exercise regularly? Do you have digestive issues that are bogging you down? Start from the inside out:

Clean up your diet—You need at least 35 grams daily of dietary fiber from vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and a fiber supplement if needed. Reduce sugar intake, and avoid processed and refined foods. Eat foods rich in healthy omega-3 fats, or take a fish oil supplement.  

Balance your digestive system—Correct digestive imbalances with probiotics from fermented foods and good quality probiotic supplements.

Reduce toxin exposure—Install HEPA air filters inside your home, choose organic foods when possible and use non-toxic cleaners.

Drink plenty of water—Drink half your body weight in ounces per day (if you weight 140 lbs., that’s 70 ounces daily!)

Exercise regularly—At least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise 5 days per week, and strength training two to three times per week.

Omega-3s for Mama and Babe

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 05/27/2011


 

Omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil are high in EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). These fatty acids have been associated with heart health, joint health, brain health, gut health… the list goes on and on. The two often go hand in hand, and for most conditions, researchers don’t know the perfect ratio of EPA to DHA. But for infant health, DHA is the fatty acid that shines.

DHA is most concentrated in the brain and the retina, which is why it’s been found to be helpful in these areas of the body. In infants, DHA has been found to help improve brain development when pregnant mothers get high amounts, and when infants receive it from breast milk or supplemented formula.

Two new studies add to the science behind DHA for new mothers. One study in preterm infants found that high doses of DHA in baby formula or breast milk resulted in greater growth rate of the head, which was associated with increased mental development—both important factors when considering pre-term infants who are at a developmental disadvantage.

The second study found that pregnant women who took fish oil high in DHA had fewer symptoms common to postpartum depression. Considering 25 percent of new mothers experience postpartum depression, this is good news. More studies will be done to determine just how and why DHA works in this way, but the results are promising. Fish oil supplements are a great source of DHA, but look for a formula that has IFOS (International Fish Oil Standards) certification to ensure that you’re getting the purest fish oil.

How Your Gut Affects Your Heart

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 05/25/2011


 

Did you ever think that what goes on in your gut could affect your heart? It may seem far-fetched, but it’s not. Think about it: the intestinal lining is connected to the bloodstream, which acts as a direct communication line with the heart and the rest of the body.

Recent studies have found an interesting gut-heart connection. When gut bacteria break down phosphatidyl choline from lecithin, a common dietary ingredient found in foods like eggs, dairy, meat, fish and soy, a metabolite called trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO) is formed. TMAO promotes atherosclerosis, and higher amounts of this metabolite in the blood increase the risk of heart disease.

This is an interesting study, but there are many questions that still need to be answered. Which bacteria are more likely to produce this TMAO? How does modifying gut bacteria change the heart disease risk? More studies are needed to determine this, but researchers suggest that probiotics may be used in the future for preventing heart disease.

It’s exciting science, though still in the early stages. But the overall message is clear: what happens in your gut affects the rest of your body. No question.

Cell Phone Radiation—Beware

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 05/23/2011


 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!

When Prevention Magazine is touting it, you know people are listening—cell phone radiation is hazardous to our health. The National Institutes of Health has reported that cell phone radiation increases the amount of glucose in the area of the head closest to the phone.

Researchers haven’t confirmed just what this might mean to our health, but to be safe, they recommend using the speaker phone feature or a hands-free device (just not Bluetooth, which still releases some electromagnetic radiation) when talking on the phone. Maybe even more important, they recommend that children text instead of talk when possible because children absorb the radiation at a higher rate due to their thinner skulls.

We’re so glued to our phones these days, but they haven’t been around long enough to really tell us what damage we might be doing to our brains. So this week, take note of how much you talk on your cell phone, and see what you can do to minimize it, use the speaker phone, or wait until you get to a land line. Your brain will thank you one day.

Stress and Your Gut

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 05/16/2011


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!

I talk all the time about the gut connection to other areas of the body—like when your gut is out of balance and it affects your brain, your skin or your joints. I also talk about the many ways your gut becomes imbalanced in the first place—like with antibiotics, acid blocking medications, poor diet, and stress.

Yes, even stress affects your gut. Stress-relieving therapies are high on my list of things to include in a healthy lifestyle. It has been known for a while now that stress can throw the gut out of balance. A recent study follows up on this by showing that not only do gut bacteria levels change with stress, but those changes also affect immunity.

The researchers of this study plan to further evaluate whether gut microbial changes are the reason that certain diseases worsen under stress. It’s a vicious cycle—stress alters the gut microbiota, which leads to worsening of symptoms, which adds more stress… and on and on.

Break the cycle. Find some kind of stress-relieving activity, like massage, meditation, yoga, tai chi, exercise—anything that brings you calm. This is an essential part of your well-being. After you’ve done that, make sure your gut also has the right support with probiotics. Break the cycle.

So SAD

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 05/13/2011


The Standard American Diet (aptly named SAD), also known as the Western diet, is full of processed and fried foods, refined carbohydrates and sugars, and saturated and trans fats. It is low in fiber, fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and beneficial fats (like omega-3s).

This diet has been blamed (and rightfully so) for so many different health conditions, most notably, heart disease and diabetes. But cheer up! A change in diet and increase in exercise can reverse both these conditions. 

Another recent study links another condition to SAD. Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHC, or as it used to be known ADD) is one of the most common childhood disorders, and may continue into adulthood. It involves difficulty staying focused, difficulty controlling behavior and hyperactivity. In adolescents, consumption of a Standard American Diet was found to more than double the risk of being diagnosed with ADHD when compared to a diet low in the foods found in the SAD diet.

The suggested reasons for this difference were:

  • SAD diet has a less optimal fatty acid profile (too much omega-6 and not enough omega-3)
  • SAD diet may not provide essential micronutrients needed for brain function
  • SAD diet contains more artificial colors, flavors and additives linked to ADHD symptoms

More studies need to be done to figure out which came first, but I simply can’t wait that long to get the word out about how detrimental the SAD diet is to our children’s health. I know that children and adolescents are picky eaters, but it is essential that they get all the nutrients they need for the best start in life – one that will carry them through the years. The earlier they begin eating well, the more likely they will eat that way for life.

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Getting Fat? It’s in Your Gut

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 05/11/2011


To me, a very interesting gut connection is that of microbial gut balance to obesity, a condition plaguing one-third of Americans. Studies are very new on this subject of the link between the gut and obesity. In fact, there have only been a few. But boy are they changing how the world looks at the gut—namely, they’re really starting to look!

This new study builds on previous animal studies by looking at the effect of a probiotic (Lactobacillus plantarum) on weight loss. It is already known that there is a difference in the gut flora between obese and lean individuals. This new study found that when rats fed a high-energy-dense diet (high fat, high calorie) were also given L. plantarum, they did not gain as much weight as the animals who did not receive the probiotic. Another group received the less-friendly E. coli bacteria and gained more body fat than those who didn’t.

That’s right—changing the gut bacteria influenced the amount of weight and fat these animals gained. This is an exciting study, because it is just the beginning of what will be a fascinating journey linking the gut to obesity, and all the many conditions related to obesity.  

I’ve known for a long time that in order to heal the body, you have to first heal the gut. In order to heal your gut, however, you have to understand the importance of its function. The gut is not merely a food processor—food in, poop out—but rather gut function is the very foundation upon which your health is built. With an unhealthy digestive tract—and there are many different ways the digestive tract can be unhealthy—you will be less able to heal your body. So start with your gut. What are you waiting for?

Health Link—Avoid Toxins in Personal Care Products

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 05/09/2011


The Environmental Working Group (EWG) does excellent work to spread information about the harmful chemicals in everyday products. They have an extensive database on chemicals found in personal care products to help you determine which products are safest. They also have a quick instruction guide on what to look for when buying personal care products. Check it out. It will help you avoid the worst chemicals found in so many personal care products.     

With the over 80,000 chemicals in use today, the majority of which are not adequately tested, we have reason to be concerned about what chemicals we put in and on our bodies. Choosing the most natural products for body care is best. EWG’s site can help you.

American Heart Association Says Fish Oil and Fiber Important for High Triglycerides and Cardiovascular Disease

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 05/06/2011


The American Heart Association (AHA) released a scientific statement this week on triglycerides and cardiovascular disease. In the statement, certain lifestyle factors—diet and exercise—were considered with regard to their effects on lowering triglycerides. Almost one-third of Americans have high triglycerides. Since 1976, average triglyceride levels have risen alongside the growing epidemic of obesity, insulin resistance, and type 2 diabetes, all of which can lead to cardiovascular disease. 

The AHA statement recommends the optimization of nutrition-related practices, which can result in a marked triglyceride-lowering effect ranging between 20% and 50%.  They recommend the following:

  • Weight loss
  • Reducing simple carbohydrates
  • Increasing dietary fiber
  • Eliminating trans fats
  • Reducing fructose (mainly high-fructose corn syrup)
  • Reducing saturated fats
  • Eating a Mediterranean-style diet (high in fresh fruits and vegetables, high fiber, lean meats, healthy fats)
  • Consuming marine-derived omega-3s

These recommendations are right on, and in line with what I have been recommending for years—not just for a healthy heart, but for overall health and well being. 

The statement made a point of talking about the importance of marine-based omega-3s.  Here’s a quote:

“Non–marine-based PUFAs [like canola, flaxseed, walnuts] have not demonstrated consistent reductions in triglycerides; this may reflect very low conversion rates of alpha-linolenic acid [ALA]…to the active triglyceride-lowering omega-3 compounds EPA and DHA.”

While ALA is a great source of omega-3s, it takes many complex steps in the body to convert it to the heart-healthy DHA and EPA, which are naturally found in fish oil.  Further, they state:

“Because the amount needed for significant triglyceride lowering (2 to 4 g) is difficult to attain through diet alone on a daily basis, supplementation with capsules may be needed.”

That’s why I recommend fish oil supplements—it’s not easy to get all that EPA and DHA from eating fish alone.  And then you have to worry about the contaminants found in fish… (that’s another blog).

I know that for a while now, the AHA has been recommending EPA and DHA fish oil for high triglycerides.  It’s nice to see this statement together with other recommendations for supporting heart health.  Cardiovascular disease is such a huge problem in this country, and it can largely be avoided by incorporating the lifestyle changes mentioned above. 

Right on AHA!

Cracking the Gut Microbial Code: Are We There Yet?

Filed in General | Posted by lsmith on 05/04/2011


“In the future, when you walk into a doctor’s surgery or hospital, you could be asked not just about your allergies and blood group, but also about your gut type.” This is a quote from ScienceDaily (Apr. 21, 2011) referring to a recent article in Nature Magazine. The study, published in Nature, also uncovers microbial genetic markers that are related to traits like age, gender and body-mass index. These bacterial genes could one day be used to help diagnose and predict outcomes for diseases like colorectal cancer, while information about a person’s gut type could help inform treatment.  Researchers found that the combination of microbes in the human intestine isn’t random, and that human gut flora can settle into three different types of communities or ecosystems.

I would call this important work just “a start,” and would like to present some basic molecular biology to indicate the magnitude of the problem of trying to classify bacterial communities.   We now know we have over 1000 species of bacteria in our intestinal tracts, all of whom have their own thousands of genes as well as their own epigenetic codes regulating their genes.

Here’s a primer on the epigenetic code: The epigenetic code (or epigenome) is in part a group of enzymes and methyl groups that attach to, and act on, genes. This ongoing active process allows some genes to be expressed, and other genes to be silenced.

The epigenome responds to most every stimulus coming to the gut bacterial cell’s surface receptors, ranging from food (which can be beneficial or harmful), good or poor hydration, eustress (good stress) or distress; other stimuli include competing or complementary bacteria, viruses and fungi which can team together in biofilms (like a microbial city) in the gut lumen. Other major factors which could affect epigenomic actions are the hormones, growth factors, vitamins, immune factors, and  cytokines which continuously send signals into the bacterial cells to affect epigenetic expression. The resultant expression of genes will then direct the bacterial cells to do what they were meant to do: namely, live in a harmonious symbiotic relationship with us, the host, or remain in a state of alert, which may cause them to stop aiding the host, and become more parasitic in nature.

The above mentioned article did not in their paper find a significant connection between diet and gut bacterial balance.  However, there are many studies that do.  I found one as recently as May 2011.  Here is the summary of the article: “After 4 weeks, weight-loss diets that were high in protein but reduced in total carbohydrates and fiber resulted in a significant decrease in fecal cancer-protective metabolites and increased concentrations of hazardous metabolites. Long-term adherence to such diets may increase risk of colonic disease.”1

The article points out that a low fiber, high protein diet causes biochemical changes to occur on a bacterial level.  First, without adequate amounts of soluble fiber the beneficial gut bacteria cannot produce short chain fatty acids (SCFAs), especially butyrate, which is the choice food of the colonic lining epithelial cells, and a preventer of damaged colonic cells from becoming cancerous.  In addition, the action of the gut bacteria on cooked meat creates increased proportions of branched-chain fatty acids, and concentrations of phenylacetic acid and N-nitroso compounds, which can lead eventually to inflammation and cancer of the colon.

The source of bacterial production of both beneficial SCFAs as well as harmful chemicals comes from epigenetic and genetic changes which lead to the production of these chemicals. I believe we are proving daily that lifestyle changes including: a healthy, 80 percent plant-based diet, good hydration, sleep, exercise, elimination, and stress reduction all help to program our bacterial biomass as much as it does our bodies. Remember there are about 100 trillion bacteria and we have only about 10 trillion cells so we are outnumbered at least 10 to 1 in terms of genes and metabolic activity, so we need to take care of our “guests” as well as ourselves! Just as important as what bacteria are in our guts, is what else passes through and affects our guts. We must be able to step back and look at the entire picture, rather than simplifying it to “three gut types.”

  1. W.R. Russell, et al., “High-protein, reduced-carbohydrate weight-loss diets promote metabolite profiles likely to be detrimental to colonic health.” Am J Clin Nutr. 2011 May;93(5):1062-72. Epub 2011 Mar 9.