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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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Immune Balance—What Does that Mean?

Filed in General | Posted by lsmith on 08/31/2011


 

The immune system is a complex organization of coordinated responses to “foreign” invaders in the body. Foreign invaders include microbes—bacteria, fungus, parasites and viruses—as well as toxins and even food. As a matter of fact, one major role of the immune system is to not respond to food. As is seen with food allergies, however, the immune system is not always successful at this. Food allergies involve an overactive immune response to certain foods, which would normally be recognized as harmless.

The immune system is comprised of two main branches: the innate immune system and the adaptive immune system. The innate immune system, also known as cell-mediated immunity, involves an immediate non-specific immune response, often against pathogens. The adaptive immune system, also called humoral immunity, involves a delayed, specific, organized response involving the production of antibodies that later recognize invading microbes so that a more effective immune response can be mounted. The innate immune system involves the production of cells called T helper 1 (Th1) cells, and adaptive immunity involves the production T helper 2 (Th2) cells. T helper cells are lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell. They are like the messengers of the immune system, sending signals that stimulate various immune responses.

Th1 and Th2 responses are joined by another type of T helper cell known as Th17. Th17 and Th1 responses are both associated with over-active immune responses, as is seen in autoimmune conditions, in which the body mistakenly attacks its own tissues. Both these responses produce inflammation by way of cytokines, the immune equivalent of hormones. These three types of T helper cells are all regulated and balanced by cells known as T regulatory cells, or Tregs.1

Are you confused yet? Think of all these T cells as a four-way seesaw.  Th1 and Th17 are on two prongs of one end, and Th2 and Tregs are on two prongs of the other. When all is well, this seesaw is in balance, like a harmonized symphony responding appropriately to that which the body comes into contact.  If out of balance, you may see higher levels of Th1 and Th17, an indication of underlying autoimmunity as is seen with type 1 diabetes, celiac disease, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, multiple sclerosis and systemic lupus erythematous. In contrast, higher levels of Th2 and Tregs are characteristic of allergic conditions like asthma, food allergies and hay fever, and with immune suppression.

How can we balance immunity? Well, probiotics are one solution. Since over 70 percent of the immune system is in the gut, probiotics are in the right terrain for immune system communication. Probiotics help balance immune response.  Gut bacteria essentially “prime” the immune system,2 educating it so that it responds appropriately to what passes through the digestive tract—and to what may ultimately pass through the small intestine and into the body.

Omega-3 fatty acids also affect immunity, largely by helping to balance the inflammatory response—an important aspect of immunity. You see, inflammation is a necessary physiologic occurrence.  But too much inflammation spells trouble.  The omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA found in fish oil help to quell inflammation at the right time.  They help stimulate the production of resolvins, chemicals knows to help “resolve” inflammation—or end it at the appropriate time.3

Further, the proper digestion of food is necessary so the immune system doesn’t have to work too hard.  When food is not broken down properly, undigested food particles can aggravate the gut, causing inflammation and even leaking through a permeable intestine (also known as leaky gut) and entering circulation where yet more inflammation is triggered, in a downward spiral of excess inflammation (which is at the basis of most, if not all, chronic disease).

Also important is regular bowel elimination, which can be attained by the consumption of dietary fiber—at least 35 grams per day. A diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains is essential, and a fiber supplement can help reach 35 grams, which can be difficult to obtain through diet alone.

In essence, the HOPE Formula—High-fiber, Omega Oils, Probiotics and digestive Enzymes—can help improve digestive health and improve immune balance. Brenda and I have been recommending this formula for years for many good reasons. With the HOPE Formula, there is hope that your health will improve.

References

  1. Cooke A, “Th17 cells in inflammatory conditions.” Rev Diabet Stud. 2006 Summer;3(2):72-5.
  2. Round JL and Mazmanian Sk, “The gut microbiota shapes intestinal immune responses during health and disease.” Nat Rev Immunol. 2009 May;9(5):313-23.
  3. Serhan CN and Savil J, “Resolution of inflammation: the beginning programs the end.” Nat Immunol. 2005 Dec;6(12):1191-7.

Processed and Red Meat Linked to Diabetes Risk

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 08/29/2011


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! 

Eating processed and red meat regularly may increase your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Researchers from Harvard School of Public Health recently analyzed data from studies involving a total of over 440,000 people over 10 years. Over six percent, or about 28,000, of those people developed type 2 diabetes during the ten-year time span. After taking into consideration other factors like weight, physical activity level, smoking and family history diabetes, researchers discovered the following dietary links to diabetes:

Eating two ounces of processed meat per day (hot dog, bacon, salami or bologna) increased the risk of diabetes by 50%.

Eating four ounces of unprocessed red meat per day (hamburger, steak, pork or lamb) was associated with a 20% increased risk of diabetes.

And the good news…

Substituting nuts, whole grains and low-fat dairy (like yogurt) for these meats decreased the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 16 to 35%.

The researchers attribute the high amount of salt, nitrites and nitrates in processed meats as possible reasons for the increased risk; and high amounts of iron may be the culprit in red meats. Further, people eating high amounts of processed and red meats may not be eating enough nuts, beans and fish, stated Vivian Fonesca of the American Diabetes Association, in response to these studies.

This week, take a look at your meat intake. If you are eating processed meats try to cut back and replace these with healthier foods. One alternative might be nitrate- and nitrite-free meats like bacon and lunchmeats.  These options still pack a lot of salt, however, so don’t be too liberal with this substitution. Opt for nuts and whole grains instead. As for red meats, cut them back as much as possible. Higher red meat consumption is also associated with colon cancer risk, so it’s best to minimize this food. Further, meats like beef and pork require high-input agriculture. That means they require a lot more water and cropland to produce, especially when compared to a more plant-based diet.

One Reason Why Celiac Disease is Under-Diagnosed

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 08/26/2011


 

Celiac disease is a condition in which the small intestinal lining becomes damaged as a result of a reaction against a common dietary ingredient, gliadin, a protein in gluten found in wheat, barley and rye. About one percent of the U.S. population is affected by celiac disease, yet most have not been diagnosed. Celiac disease diagnosis is confirmed by biopsy of the small intestine.

Scientists are trying to determine why so many cases of celiac go undiagnosed. A recent study by Colombia University Medical Center has found one reason—improper intestinal biopsy. Celiac disease affects patches of the small intestine, not the entire intestine. Medical recommendations for intestinal biopsy suggest that at least four specimens be taken to ensure that enough areas of the intestine are sampled to detect damage. Researchers used a nationally representative database of over 100,000 individuals who had undergone intestinal biopsy for symptoms like diarrhea, abdominal pain, esophageal reflux, and anemia and found that only 35 percent had the recommended four specimens taken. Most had only two.

In those individuals in whom four specimens were taken, the diagnosis rate for celiac disease more than doubled. “The process of increasing the number of specimens from two to four takes approximately one extra minute during endoscopy,” said Dr. Lebwohl, lead author of the study.

Celiac disease is the most severe form of gluten intolerance, another condition that doesn’t involve intestinal damage—yet! If you are undergoing a biopsy to detect celiac disease, be sure to ask the doctor if they’re taking at least four specimens. If the biopsy comes back negative, however, don’t think you can jump right back into eating gluten. You may have the milder form of gluten sensitivity. A stool test from enterolab.com could help you determine if this is what ails you.

Over-the-counter Statin Drugs? Here We Go Again

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 08/24/2011


 

It is reported that the pharmaceutical company Pfizer, which manufactures the cholesterol-lowering drug atorvastatin (Lipitor), will attempt to gain FDA approval to sell the drug over the counter. The patent on Lipitor expires in November, which means that generic versions of the drug will drive the cost way down. Selling Lipitor over the counter would help make up for the lost profits for Pfizer. It’s not the first time Big Pharma has tried to gain this status for a statin drug—in 2008 an FDA advisory panel rejected applications from Merck for over-the-counter lovastatin, another statin drug. This application was rejected for a number of good reasons.

Drugs that have already taken the leap from prescription to over-the-counter status are those intended for temporary or intermittent treatment of symptomatic conditions like allergy, pain or gastric reflux (I won’t get into the inappropriate long-term use of over-the-counter proton pump inhibitors here—I’ve blogged on that before). Long-term treatment of asymptomatic conditions like high cholesterol requires physician monitoring of dosage, response and side effects. Liver damage and muscle pain are the most common side effects of statins. While muscle pain is obvious, liver damage can occur with no side effects, highlighting the importance of physician monitoring while on these medications.

Further, there is valid concern that consumers will not be able to appropriately select statin drugs and use them correctly. Consumers with little risk for a cardiovascular event may take over-the-counter statins with false hopes that the drug is benefitting them. Proper dosage is another factor—consumers needing a higher dose may mistakenly take a low dose, while those needing a low dose may overmedicate themselves.

For all these reasons, the FDA rejected the previous attempt at approval of over-the-counter statins. Let’s hope the FDA will take the same position with Pfizer’s attempts to gain over-the-counter status this time around. Statin drugs are already over-prescribed.

Start Your Day with Fiber and Protein

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 08/22/2011


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!

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. It gets you going in the morning and can help you sustain your energy throughout the day—if you choose the right foods. Many common breakfast foods are full of refined carbs and fat, however, which can leave you dragging by midmorning. I’ve addressed this before.

With school starting up again, results of a recent study can help teens get “up and at ‘em” this year. Researchers at the University of Missouri have found that when teens eat a breakfast higher in protein and fiber, they feel full right away and continue to feel satiated throughout the day. This means they won’t be distracted with thoughts of food when they should be focusing on geometry.

But first things first—skipping breakfast is a no-no. It is estimated that 30 to 60 percent of kids skip breakfast. And those that do eat breakfast eat high-fat, high-sugar foods. That’s no way to start the day.

This week, take a look at what you and your family are eating for breakfast. Is it a high-protein, high-fiber choice? Fruit and yogurt is a great choice. A vegetable egg scramble does the trick. Or how about a bowl of oatmeal with nuts and fruit? There are many options that will keep you and your family nourished throughout the day.

Manganese in Drinking Water Associated with Lower IQ in Children

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 08/19/2011


 

An unexpected toxin was recently found to have a strong association with intellectual ability in children — manganese. Where is this manganese coming from?  Surprisingly, from tap water that contains manganese concentrations below the current guidelines for safety. Kids with the most exposure to manganese through tap water were found to have lower IQs than those children who were not exposed.

Workplace manganese exposure has been known to have neurotoxic effect, but this is the first study to look at lower concentrations of manganese from drinking water and food sources and its effects on cognitive function. 

Manganese is a naturally occurring toxin found in soils in certain regions, which can then leach into groundwater sources.  This is especially true in parts of Canada where this study took place.  Hopefully more studies will be done and awareness will be raised about filtering this toxic element out of our drinking water.

Finally Some Good News About BPA

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 08/17/2011


 

Don’t worry, I’m not going to say that BPA (bisphenol A) is not as bad as we thought—it certainly is. But the good news is that plastic bottles that claim to be BPA-free were actually found to live up to their claims. Concerns that newer “BPA-free”-marketed bottles were not actually free of the harmful endocrine-disrupting chemical prompted this independent study, funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the UC Center for Environmental Genetics, performed by University of Cincinnati researchers and published in the journal Chemosphere.

The researchers found that stainless steel and/or co-polyester lined aluminum bottles did not release BPA, but aluminum bottles lined with epoxy-based resins did. “[BPA] is used extensively in the production of consumer goods, polycarbonate plastics, in epoxy resins that are used to coat metallic food and beverage cans and in other products. There is a great concern regarding the possible harmful effects from exposures that result from BPA leaching into foods and beverages from packaging or storage containers,” the study stated.

All bottles used in the study were obtained from retail stores and were made from polycarbonate, co-polyester, stainless steel, aluminum with co-polyester lining or aluminum with epoxy resin lining.

Detectible levels of BPA leaked from polycarbonate bottles, though the aluminum bottles lined with epoxy resins leached the most BPA. So if you switched your reusable water bottle to a metal one, be sure it’s not lined with epoxy resin. Aluminum bottles lined with EcoCare™ did not leach BPA. It’s good to know there are safer alternatives out there.

Eat Healthier, Live Longer

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 08/15/2011


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!

Perhaps the more reasons we have to eat healthy, the more healthy we might eat. A recent study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association looked at different diet patterns and survival rates of over 2500 people over a 10-year period. They were able to create six groups according to their eating habits:

  •  Healthy foods
  • High-fat dairy products
  • Meat, fried foods, and alcohol
  • Breakfast cereal
  • Refined grains
  • Sweets and desserts

The lead researcher said the “results of this study suggest that older adults who follow a dietary pattern consistent with current guidelines to consume relatively high amounts of vegetables, fruit, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, poultry and fish, may have lower risk of [death].”

I return to the subject of diet often because I know how important it is to eat the right foods. This week, take another look at your diet and make any needed changes so that you, too, can live longer and healthier.

Autoimmune Disease and Toxins

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 08/12/2011


 

Autoimmune disease involves a process whereby the immune system mistakes part of the body as a foreign invader, and mounts an attack against it, damaging tissue. The most common autoimmune diseases include type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, celiac disease, psoriasis, lupus, and Grave’s and Hashimoto’s diseases.

Prevalence of autoimmune disease is on the rise. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) estimates as many as 23.5 million Americans may be afflicted with at least one autoimmune condition, up from 8.5 million in 1996. But even this estimate is low, since those numbers only consider 24 autoimmune conditions, when these illnesses actually number over 80.

Though genes do play a role in autoimmune diseases (they tend to run in families), environmental triggers are also involved and contribute to the increase in prevalence rates, according to Fred Miller, director of the Environmental Autoimmunity Group at the National Institutes of Environmental Health Sciences. “Our gene sequences aren’t changing fast enough to account for the increases,” Miller says. “Yet our environment is—we’ve got 80,000 chemicals approved for use in commerce, but we know very little about their immune effects. Our lifestyles are also different than they were a few decades ago, and we’re eating more processed food.”

Environmental triggers of autoimmunity include: chemicals, infections, stress, hormones, drugs, diet, weight gain and behavior. Of these, chemicals are particularly concerning due to their prevalence in the environment and to the lack of safety testing and regulation. The following toxins have been linked to autoimmunity: polyaromatic hydrocarbons (found in air pollution), heavy metals (lead and mercury), trichloroethylene (an industrial solvent that contaminates our water and air) and asbestos (found in building materials of older buildings).

Studying the link between environmental toxins and any illness is difficult, but because there are so many autoimmune disease, and because each one has different features, studying the link between chemicals and each illness is particularly difficult. Scientists are calling for better ways to link autoimmune diseases together, as occurs with cancer, to increase funding and understanding of what factors trigger this complex of diseases.

In the meantime, reducing toxin exposure, following a healthy diet, and supporting the seven channels of elimination—colon, liver, lungs, lymph, kidneys, skin and blood—with regular internal cleansing is recommended to help reduce toxic burden.

Busting Candida Biofilm

Filed in General | Posted by lsmith on 08/10/2011


 

A recent study published in the journal PLoS Biology has found that Candida albicans forms two distinct biofilm types according to what form the Candida is in—the sexual or asexual form.1 A biofilm is a protective polysaccharide matrix in which microbial populations exist and are able to hide from the immune system and antimicrobials. As it turns out, when Candida is in an asexual form, it produces a biofilm that is impermeable to antifungals, antibodies and white blood cells. This asexual form makes up the majority—about 90 percent—of Candida cells in the body. The other ten percent are sexually reproducing Candida cells that form a similar looking biofilm that behaves differently and is susceptible to antifungals and to the immune system.

Biofilms are formed by more than just Candida, however. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) estimates that nearly 80 percent of chronic microbial infections are due to biofilms.2 Dr. Maria Usman, MD has developed, and is refining, a Biofilm Protocol for use in children with gut disorders on the autism spectrum.3 She is seeing some success with this protocol, though it must be tailored to the individual and can cause a “die-off” reaction, also known as the Herxheimer reaction. (When microbes are killed they give off microbial toxins that can cause sickness-like symptoms that can make the patient feel worse before getting better.)

Another approach that can help get Candida and gut issues under control is the 4R Model.4 The Institute of Functional Medicine promotes this model as the best way to evaluate and treat patients with gastrointestinal complaints. The 4R model asks four main questions:

REMOVE—What may need to be removed? This may be pathogenic or potentially pathogenic organisms like Candida, bacteria or parasites. It can also be foods or toxins to which the person is sensitive or allergic.

REPLACE—What may need to be replaced? In this step, the use of digestive enzymes and HCl should be considered to ensure that they body is properly absorbing necessary nutrients.

REINOCULATE—What may the body need to be reinoculated with? This considers intestinal microbes and uses probiotics and prebiotics to reestablish intestinal balance.

REPAIR—What may be needed to repair a healthy mucosal layer? The use of certain nutrients, such as L-glutamine, to repair the mucosal layer are useful here.

One probiotic—the probiotic yeast Saccharomyces boulardii—may be particularly helpful for those with Candida problems. Candida often occurs in people who have been treated with antibiotics. Antibiotics target bacteria, both good and bad, but do not affect Candida because it is a yeast, leaving no competition for Candida. This is where S. boulardii can be helpful, because it is not killed by antibiotics like other probiotic bacteria. Futher, S. boulardii has also been shown to inhibit Candida albicans.5 S. boulardii produces capric acid, and both have been shown to downregulate (reduce) the expression of genes associated with Candida virulence. Thus, the capric acid secreted by S. boulardii inhibits C. albicans hyphal formation, adhesion properties and biofilm formation.6 Probiotic bacteria have also been found to be helpful for Candida by helping to reduce and inhibit Candida, and by stimulating immune response against Candida.7

Bringing the gut back into balance takes a multipronged approach.  The 4R program can help address the multiple issues that arise when faced with digestive conditions like Candida overgrowth.

  1. Song Y, et al., “Alternative mating type configurations of Candida albicans result in alternative biofilms regulated by different pathways.” PLoS Biology. Aug 2011;9(8): e1001117.
  2.  http://grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/pa-files/PA-03-047.html
  3. http://www.autismpedia.org/wiki/index.php?title=Protocols/Usman
  4. Jones DS (editor), Textbook of Functional Medicine, The Institute for Functional Medicine, 2005, p. 462-8.
  5. Krasowska A, et al., “The antagonistic effect of Saccharomyces boulardii on Candida albicans filamentation, adhesion and biofilm formation.”FEMS Yeast Res. 2009 Dec;9(8):1312-21.
  6. Murzyn A, et al., “Capric acid secreted by S. boulardii inhibits C. albicans filamentous growth, adhesion and biofilm formation.” PLoS One. 2010 Aug 10;5(8):e12050.
  7. Wagner RD, et al., “Biotherapeutic effects of probiotic cacteria on candidiasis in immunodeficient mice.” Infect and Immun. 1997 Oct; p. 4165-72.