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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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Antibacterial Soap a Good Thing? Think Again

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 07/29/2011


 

In this time of scary bacterial infections, antibacterial soap would seem a regular sink-side bottle. We are told that germs are bad—and many are—and that we need to scrub them away with antibacterial soaps, scrubs and sprays. Right? Well, not completely. Handwashing for at least 15 seconds with hot soapy water is very effective at removing germs. All that is needed for this is regular old soap.

Antibacterial soap contains a chemical called triclosan (2,4,4’-trichloro-2’-hydroxydiphenyl ether). This chemical has been said to contribute to the increase in antibiotic resistant bacteria. This is because it’s in so many products and pollutes waterways, increasing its exposure to bacteria, which then become resistant.

Dr. Smith blogged in December about the link between use of triclosan and the development of hay fever and allergies in children and teens. Now comes another study published in Environmental Health Perspectives that adds to the last—children and adolescents under age 18 with the highest levels of triclosan in their urine were more likely to be diagnosed with allergies and asthma.

The head researchers stated, “Our results suggest that exposure to triclosan, particularly at times during the life course when the immune system is developing, may modify immunologic response.” They are not quite sure how that works, but suggest that applying triclosan soaps to the skin may reduce some types of microbiota on the skin, or even in the bowels. Or, the soaps may directly affect the endocrine system, which is in close communication with the immune system.

While they work out the details, I say steer clear of antibacterial soaps. Just be sure to wash your hands well. It’s enough!

Autism and the Gut—A Need for Digestive Enzymes

Filed in General | Posted by lsmith on 07/27/2011


 

Autism is a developmental disorder characterized by severe abnormalities in communication, social awareness and skills, and behavior. Before the 1980s, autism occurred in 2 to 5 of every 10,000 children. Today about 1 in every 110 children gets autism. This rapid increase cannot only be attributed to improved diagnosis, and also indicates there is more to the disorder than simply genetics. Indeed, autism is a combination of genetic predisposition with environmental factors that triggers its development.

One aspect of contributing factors, at least in a subset of children, involves gut dysfunction. Many reports describe gastrointestinal symptoms and abnormalities in up to 84% of children with autism.[1] From constipation, diarrhea, abdominal discomfort, food sensitivities and abnormal gut flora to immune dysfunction and gut and systemic inflammation, the digestive system plays a central role in many cases of autism.

One gut abnormality—lactose intolerance—found in people with autism was recently reported in the journal Autism. Intestinal disaccharidase activity was measured in 199 individuals with autism. Disaccharidase is an enzyme that breaks larger sugars (disaccharides) like lactose, maltose and sucrose into smaller sugars like glucose. Deficiency of lactase enzyme, the enzyme that breaks milk sugar, or lactose, into galactose and fructose, was found in 58 percent of autistic children and 65 percent of autistic adults. In children, boys under 5-years-old had 1.7-fold lower lactase activity than girls of the same age, indicating the problem may be more severe in boys. The study concluded that lactase deficiency is common in autistic children and may contribute to abdominal discomfort, pain and the observed abnormal behavior seen in autism. Further, the study points out that most autistic children with lactose intolerance are not identified when doctors take a clinical history.

A decrease in activity of a variety of carbohydrate-digesting enzymes has been reported in children with autism.[2] Carbohydrase and disaccharidase enzyme deficiency results in the incomplete breakdown of carbohydrates in the small intestine. These partially undigested carbs move into the colon where they are greeted by a large supply of “hungry” bacteria—including potentially pathogenic bacteria. This may explain the increased presence of Candida and Clostridia species found in the guts of autistics.[3][4]

Carbohydrate-digesting enzymes are not the only digestive enzymes that may cause problems in autism. Fat malabsorption is seen in some autistic children, resulting in fatty, loose, floating, foul-smelling stools, also known as steatorrhea. Further, a particular enzyme known as dipeptidyl peptidase-4 (DPP4) may be deficient in those with autism. This enzyme breaks a specific peptide bond in gluten and casein proteins. In fact, it is thought that a deficiency in this enzyme is responsible for the incomplete breakdown of casein and gluten peptides (known as gluteomorphins and casomorphins) that act as opioids in the central nervous system and are thought to contribute to autistic symptoms. Following a gluten-free and casein-free diet has been found helpful in many autistics because it eliminates exposure to these peptides, often relieving symptoms. Supplemental DPP4 can be given in cases where accidental ingestion of gluten- or casein-containing foods is suspected, but it is not recommended as a replacement for the gluten-free, casein-free diet.

In all, we see a variety of enzyme deficiencies in autism and it would be wise to supplement with a digestive enzyme formula that includes a variety of enzymes. Further, due to the many digestive abnormalities seen in autism, the HOPE Formula (High-fiber, Omega oils, Probiotics and digestive Enzymes) is a wise daily maintenance program to support gut health.


[1] Gilger MA and Redel CA, “Autism and the gut.” Pediatrics. 2009 Aug;124(2):796-8.

[2] Horvath K, et al., “Gastrointestinal abnormalities in children with autistic disorder.” J Pediatr 1999;135:559-63.

[3] Finegold SM, et al., “Gastrointestinal microflora studies in late-onset autism.” Clin Infect Dis. 2002 Sep 1;35(Suppl 1):S6-S16.

[4] Shaw W, et al., “Assessment of antifungal drug therapy in autism by measurement of suspected microbial metabolites in urine with gas chromatography—mass spectrometry. The Clinical Practice of Alternative Medicine Magazine. 2000;1:15-26.

Stimulate Digestion with these Moves

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 07/25/2011


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!

The digestive tract is about 30 feet long, and it takes anywhere from 24 to 72 (or more, yikes!) hours for food to travel all the way through. If you experience constipation, exercise can really help get things moving. I recommend aerobic exercise at least three times a week for 30 minutes. Find some aerobic activity you enjoy to help you stick to the routine, and try to change it up so you don’t get bored.

Stretching exercises are also helpful. This week, for stimulating digestion, try this yoga sequence I found on health.com. You could add this to the end of your routine to help get things moving.

Chemical Exposure During Pregnancy

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 07/22/2011


 

A recent study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives and based on the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) investigated the exposure of pregnant women to 163 chemicals, revealing, “ubiquitous exposure to multiple chemicals during a sensitive period of development.” The study found that pregnant women were even exposed to chemicals banned decades ago, and some of the chemicals analyzed were found in 99 – 100 percent of the women.

Health effects were not assessed in this study, but many of the chemicals found are known to have detrimental consequences on health. In another case study of one women with particularly high levels of bisphenol A (BPA) during her 27th week of pregnancy, the infant experienced neurobehavioral abnormalities at his one-month study visit. Researchers of this study were able to trace her abnormally high BPA exposure to the high consumption of canned foods, heating of plastic food containers, and use of plastic cups. The week of her highest recorded BPA level, she consumed canned ravioli each day. It is known that acidic foods can bring out more BPA from can lining, and canned tomato foods have been found to be higher in BPA.

BPA and phthalate exposure can be reduced by purchasing fresh unpackaged foods and avoiding plastic food packaging, storage containers and utensils. In one study, again published in Environmental Health Perspectives, consuming fresh foods prepared and consumed without the use of plastic was associated with a 66 percent reduction in the amount of BPA in urine.

We can’t eliminate all toxins, but there are small things we can do try to reduce them. Replace your plastic Tupperware with glass containers. Don’t use plastic wrap and try to prepare as much food as you can from fresh, unpackaged foods. And never heat food or drink in plastic. Do what you can and know that you are at least doing something. Spread the word—pass this information on.

Depressed? Digestive Upsets May be the Cause

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 07/20/2011


 

The gut-brain connection is an interesting one because it travels in two directions—from the brain to the gut and from the gut to the brain. For the longest time this connection was thought to only travel in one direction, from the brain to the gut, like when strong emotions trigger an upset stomach. But researchers now know that what happens in your gut has an effect on your brain.

One recent study at the Stanford University School of Medicine tried to elucidate this connection. According to one of the researchers, “Gastric irritation during the first few days of life may reset the brain into a permanently depressed state.” Genetic susceptibility also plays a role, of course, since not all stomach upsets will lead to depression, but this connection is interesting.

The gut is connected directly to the brain by the vagus nerve, and even has a nervous system of its own—the enteric nervous system. This connection between the gut and the brain allows for close communication. Many studies are finding that the gut has a major effect on the brain. I have blogged about it before. More than once.

The researchers used an animal model of functional dyspepsia, also known as indigestion, to determine that stomach irritation early in life can lead to depressed and anxious behaviors that last much longer than the indigestion itself. Their findings will lead to more studies to investigate how this gut brain connection works, and if new ways can be found to treat depression and anxiety in humans, based on the gut-brain link.

Dirty Dozen Update—12 Most Pesticide-Laden Foods

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 07/18/2011


 

The Environmental Working Group has put out an updated list of fruits and vegetables ranked according to their pesticide contamination. The report, put out annually, analyzes government data on 53 fruits and vegetables. New to the top of the list this year is apples, moved up from number four. Ninety-two percent of apples tested contained two or more pesticides.

EWG recommends choosing organic when buying the top twelve, or the ‘dirty dozen.’ This year, the dirty dozen include:

  • Apples
  • Celery
  • Strawberries
  • Peaches
  • Spinach
  • Nectarines
  • Grapes
  • Sweet bell peppers
  • Potatoes
  • Blueberries
  • Lettuce
  • Kale/collard greens

The ‘Clean 15,’ on the other hand, are the 15 fruits and vegetables with the lowest amounts of pesticides:

  • Onions
  • Corn
  • Pineapples
  • Avocado
  • Asparagus
  • Sweet peas
  • Mangoes
  • Eggplant
  • Cantaloupe
  • Kiwi
  • Cabbage
  • Watermelon
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Grapefruit
  • Mushrooms

This week, make some adjustments to the way you buy fruits and vegetables. Choose organic when buying the dirty dozen to reduce your exposure to pesticides.

Flame Retardants in Fido

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 07/15/2011


 

Dogs are not called “man’s best friend” for no reason. Dogs are wonderful companions, I know. I have four dogs, myself. That’s why I developed a line of supplements for dogs with Dr. Joel Murphy. I know that dogs deal with many of the same issues we do as humans. One of these issues is toxin exposure. In fact, our pets (and children, for that matter) are particularly susceptible to toxin exposure due to their close proximity to the ground, where many toxins collect.

A recent study by researchers at Indiana University analyzed levels of flame retardants in blood from 17 dogs who live primarily indoors. Flame retardants are chemicals used on carpet, upholstery, furniture, electronics, and even children’s pajamas. They collect in house dust, and can be found in just about everyone. It turns out that the dogs in the study had levels of these toxic flame retardants that were five to 10 times higher than those found in humans.

Though these levels were not as high as those found in cats, there still may be some negative health effects we don’t even know yet. If you are concerned about your dog’s exposure to toxins, consider a detox supplement that helps to support the liver. Keep household dust to a minimum with a vacuum or sweeping. This may help reduce some exposure.

Soluble Fiber and Exercise Reduce Belly Fat

Filed in General | Posted by lsmith on 07/13/2011


 

An interesting study published in the journal Obesity points out that eating more soluble fiber, like that from apples and beans, and moderate exercise will selectively decrease belly fat.1 The authors don’t seem to know why it is selective to belly fat, and not subcutaneous fat (fat just under the skin). I think one reason would be that the intake of high amounts of soluble fiber promotes growth of beneficial bacteria that produce short chain fatty acids, both of which may control some of the inflammation in the gut. Chronic inflammation causes marked increase in insulin resistance, and therefore, storage of more belly fat. Controlling this inflammation is key, and as we see, can be done by consuming soluble fiber.

Here are some recently discovered points that support the above concepts:

  • Eating a high fat and sugar diet decreases the number of beneficial bifidobacteria and increases the number of potentially pathogenic gram negative bacterial species in the gut.
  • As these potentially pathogenic bacteria die they release cell wall lipopolysaccharides (LPS) which happen to also be better absorbed through the gut lining when eating a high-fat, high-sugar, low-fiber diet on a regular basis. The LPS molecules easily pass through the epithelial gut lining and hit the gut immune system where they activate white blood cells including neutrophils, monocytes, and macrophages that all then release inflammatory cytokines: TNF alpha, IL-6 and IL-1 beta. These inflammatory cytokines can trigger inflammation in the small blood vessels throughout the body but probably start with the blood vessels in the intestines, causing endothelial dysfunction. This has been proven by measuring a significant decrease in blood vessel wall flexibility within minutes to hours after eating a high-fat, high-sugar meal.2
  • Conversely, supplementing with bifidobacteria and eating a plant-based, high-fiber diet seems to decrease translocation of LPS through the gut epithelial lining and may help prevent the negative effects of high-fat diet induced metabolic diseases.3
  • The vascular inflammation in and around the intestinal tract, which is 20 or more feet in length, can stimulate stem cells adjacent to the blood vessel walls (known as stem cell pericytes) to develop into fat cells or adipocytes which accumulate wherever there are blood vessels in the abdomen—that’s almost everywhere!
  • The inflammatory fire continues as the abdominal fat, or visceral fat (some people call it VAT) continues to produce more inflammatory cytokines (IL- 6, TNF alpha, etc.) that flow into other blood vessels, stimulating more stem cell conversion into fat cells or adipocytes.
  • It is interesting that both vitamin D and stem cells are stored at high levels in abdominal fat. Perhaps the vitamin D is trying to cool down the inflammation and the stem cells are there to respond according to the body’s information: either make fat or something else.

It makes sense that exercise  was found helpful for reducing abdominal fat. Exercise has many benefits. For one, it produces more adiponectin to help reverse the situation. Adiponectin is an anti-inflammatory hormone made in fat that both decreases inflammation in fat and travels to the pancreas to help sensitize and balance the release of insulin which can help reverse metabolic imbalances.

So it is pretty simple—eat your plant-based, high-fiber diet, supplement with probiotics (including good amounts of bifidobacteria), and exercise moderately on a regular basis.  Then be patient. The accumulation of abdominal fat, along with all the problems caused by this fat, including heart attacks and cancer, is reversible.

1.  Hairston KG, et al., “Lifestyle Factors and 5-Year Abdominal Fat Accumulation in a Minority Cohort: The IRAS Family Study.” Obesity (Silver Spring). 2011 Jun 16. doi: 10.1038/oby.2011.171. [Epub ahead of print]

2.  Plotnik GD, et al., “Effect of antioxidant vitamins on the transient impairment of endothelium-dependent brachial artery vasoactivity following a single high-fat meal.” JAMA. 1997 Nov 26;278(20):1682-6.

3.  Cani PD, et al., “Selective increases of bifidobacteria in gut microflora improve high-fat-diet-induced diabetes in mice through a mechanism associated with endotoxaemia.”

Diabetologia. 2007 Nov;50(11):2374-83.

Green Your Surroundings for Health

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 07/11/2011


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!

 Many studies have pointed out the health benefits of spending time outdoors. According to University of Illinois environment and behavior researcher Frances Kuo, the science behind these benefits is strong and clear, “In less green environments, we find higher rates of aggression, violence, violent crime, and property crime—even after controlling for income and other differences. We even find more evidence of loneliness and more individuals reporting inadequate social support.”

On the flip side, access to nature and greener environments improves cognitive functioning, self discipline and impulse control, and contributes to greater overall mental health. Greener environments also help recovery from surgery, improve immune function, help diabetics achieve better blood glucose control, and improve functional health status and independent living skills in older adults.

So this week, get outdoors! Find some green space and take it in. Then figure out how you can make it more of a habit so that you too can reap the good health that getting closer to nature can bring you.

While you’re at it, pick up one of the following houseplants, which were found to be the best at reducing indoor formaldehyde levels (formaldehyde is emitted from particle board, carpet, window coverings, paper products, tobacco smoke and more):

  • Japanese royal fern
  • Spikemoss
  • Hare’s foot fern
  • Guava
  • Sweet lavender
  • Spider fern
  • Geranium

Listen Up Ladies—Job Stress Can Lead to Heart Disease

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 07/08/2011


 

Recent findings by Harvard researchers in the Women’s Health Study (which involved more than 17,000 female health professionals) indicate that women whose work is highly stressful are at a 40 percent increased risk of developing heart disease compared to their less-stressed colleagues. The study also showed that women who worry about job loss are more likely to have high blood pressure, unhealthy cholesterol levels and be obese.

More studies back this up. A large study in Denmark found a higher risk for heart disease among women aged 51 and older who were under greater work pressure. Another study in Beijing found that women with job strain had increased thickness of the carotid artery—a sign of cardiovascular disease.

The effects of stress, and especially chronic stress, are far-reaching. The body is designed to respond to stress by increasing blood pressure, speeding heart rate, quickening breathing, and slowing digestion. Did you know that stress even alters the microbial balance in the digestive tract? Chronic stress has these same effects, but over a longer time period. The result? Chronic disease.

There are some aspects about work-related stress that cannot be changed. We all know that. How we handle the stress is another story. Stress-reducing therapies such as relaxation techniques, meditation, or yoga can be helpful. Regular exercise is another stress reducer, and is also good for the heart. Reducing stress outside of work can also help lessen the stress load.