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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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    • 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.

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    • 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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Diet and the Gut

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 11/30/2011


 

The human gut is home to thousands of different bacterial species, totaling 100 trillion bacterial cells—that’s about four pounds of bacteria, or the weight of a brick. The composition of this bacterial population (also known as the gut microbiota), is currently being studied. Dr. Smith recently blogged on it.

A new study by researchers from the University of Pennsylvania, published in Science, takes the findings further. This new study found two major gut types—Bacteroides and Prevotella—based on gut bacterial population groups in 98 healthy volunteers who were asked to fill out questionnaires that assessed dietary habits. Stool samples were collected to determine their gut microbiota composition.

The researchers found a link between dietary habits and gut types. People who ate a diet high in meat and saturated fat were higher in Bacteroides bacteria, and people who had a diet high in carbohydrates had more Prevotella bacteria. Researchers then took ten volunteers and fed half of them a diet high in fat and low in fiber, and fed the other half a low-fat, high-fiber diet. By the end of ten days the bacterial populations had begun to change, but were still predominantly the same Bacteroides and Prevotella groups. This indicates that it’s possible to change the gut microbiota with diet, but it will take more than a short term change to see any major difference.

Next steps will be to replicate these findings to confirm them, and to take the studies further by looking at whether these gut types are associated with health or disease. It’s an exciting area of research, working out the details of what I have said all along—your gut is the foundation of the health of the rest of your body. It all begins in the gut.

The Super-Sizing of Our Children

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 11/28/2011


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! 

Our children are being super-sized. After all, you are what you eat, right? Childhood obesity is a major problem in this country. One reason for this, researchers say, is increased food portions. In a recent study, data from four surveys ranging from 1977 to 2006 was analyzed for portion size of the following foods: sugar-sweetened beverages, salty snacks, French fries, burgers, desserts, pizzas, and Mexican fast food. Total calories consumed of these foods were also analyzed.

In 2003 to 2006, the foods listed above accounted for 38 percent of calorie intake in 13–18-year-olds, 35 percent in 7–12-year-olds, and 28 percent in 2–6-year-olds. The researchers stated that over time, “larger portion sizes of selected energy-dense, nutrient-poor foods have increased in parallel with energy intakes at meals, especially in adolescents and middle-aged children.”

Their study found that the availability of larger portion sizes played a role in higher intake of empty calories in older children and teens, suggesting teens are more susceptible to larger portions, and less able to self-regulate their eating habits compared to younger children.

Bad food is easy to come across. It’s available everywhere, it’s cheap, and it’s usually found in the form of refined carbohydrates and sugars, making it also somewhat addictive. These are the foods our children are growing up with. This week, super-size the vegetables instead. Super-size some healthy, whole foods that your children like. Super-size some blueberries! Super-size broccoli! Do what you can to plant the seeds of good nutrition in this young generation, so that those seeds may grow a healthy human.

Omega-3 Fish Oil and Your Eyesight

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 11/25/2011


Fish high in omega-3 oils provide a rich source of the fatty acids EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). DHA is a physiologically-essential nutrient in the brain and retina where it is found in high concentrations. For this reason fish oil rich in DHA is particularly beneficial for the eyes and brain. EPA is especially helpful for reducing inflammation. Together, EPA and DHA have been found to be helpful in a host of health conditions.

Recently, a couple studies have been published highlighting the visual benefits of fish oil. In one study involving 38,022 women, regular consumption of the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA found in fish was associated with lower risk of developing age-related macular degeneration, which is a condition in older people that gradually destroys central sharp vision. Women who regularly consumed fish had a 42 percent lower risk.

The second study evaluated the way that omega-3 fatty acids work. The study found an effect that promotes healthy blood vessel growth while inhibiting abnormal blood vessel growth. Both retinopathy and macular degeneration involve abnormal blood vessel growth. Researchers isolated the compound which exhibited this effect—a metabolite of the omega-3 DHA.

Currently, an ongoing study through the National Eye Institute is underway looking at the benefits of fish oil supplements in people with age-related macular degeneration, and another study in Sweden is investigating the effects of omega-3 supplementation in premature infants who are deficient in omega-3 to determine if the supplement reduces the development of retinopathy. If so, this will lead to more studies.

The science behind EPA and DHA from fish oil span a wide range of health conditions, which highlights the importance of these oils for the body’s optimal function.

Epigenetics—Why Your Lifestyle May Affect Generations To Come

Filed in General | Posted by lsmith on 11/23/2011


The human genome was fully mapped in the year 2000, a feat thought to be one of the most important medical science breakthroughs in history. As it turned out, there were only 25,000 genes, and the research did not yield the medical advances anticipated. In 2008, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) began to fund a different genetic initiative; one that sought to understand the epigenome.

The epigenome is described as the expression of the genome. Literally, epigenome means “above the genome.” Epigenetics is the study of changes in gene activity that do not involve changes to genetic code. One example of epigenetics is the addition or subtraction of small molecules called methyl or acetyl groups, which attach/detach to certain genes in processes known as methylation or acetylation. In methylation of the genome some genes are silenced, and others are turned on. Methylation determines how genes will be expressed, and it is the expression of genes that has an effect on our health. Think of your genome like a piano, and methylation like the pianist’s fingers, playing in tune to your health—or not.

Scientists have long known that epigenetics existed, because it explains how certain cells have the potential to develop into different cell types, depending on what is needed at the time. But what scientists didn’t know then that they know now, is epigenetics plays a major role in our health, and the health of our children. Lifestyle factors, like what we eat, what we are exposed to, and how we live, can affect our gene expression, and even the gene expression of our children for at least four generations.

Randy Jirtle PhD, a radiation biologist at Duke University, was among the first to experiment with DNA methylation in ways that gained much attention. His team conducted an experiment in pregnant mice that found methylation of a particular gene, the agouti gene, by administration of a diet rich in the B vitamins folic acid and B12 (both critically involved in methylation), resulted in offspring that were lean compared to obese offspring of pregnant mice not fed the diet.1,2

Dr. Jirtle stated, “The epigenome is most sensitive to perturbations in programming during the embryonic and the perinatal stages of development,”3 a statement highlighting the importance of healthy lifestyle of the mother before and during pregnancy and breast feeding, and of the children as they grow.

Puberty is another period when the epigenome is sensitive, especially in boys in whom sperm are beginning to develop (as opposed to in girls who carry eggs from birth). Toxin exposure plays a big role in epigenetics. Very early cigarette smoking in boys before age 11 has been found to later increase obesity in the sons of those men, illustrating the effects of the epigenome on the next generation.4

The message of epigenetic research is that we have more control over our genome, and thus, our health, than we once thought. Even small lifestyle changes can positively affect the expression of our genes in a way that results in positive health effects, in ourselves, in our children, and in our children’s children out several generations.

References

  1. R.A. Waterland and R.J. Jirtle, “Transposable elements: targets for early nutritional effects on epigenetic gene regulation.” Mol Cell Biol. 2003 August; 23(15): 5293–5300.
  2. R.J. Jirtle and M.K. Skinner, Environmental epigenomics and disease susceptibility.” Nat Rev Genet. 2007 Apr;8(4):253-62.
  3. B.M. Kuehn, “Randy L. Jirtle, PhD: Epigenetics a window on gene dysregulation, disease.” JAMA. 2008;299(11):1249-1250.
  4. M.E. Pembry, et al., “Sex-specific, male-line transgenerational responses in humans.” Eur J Hum Genet. 2006 Feb;14(2):159-66.

Teach Kids About Digestion

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 11/21/2011


 

I came across a neat flash animation video of digestion that can help you teach kids the basics about how their bodies utilize the foods they eat. Teaching kids early about how the body works, especially when it comes to digestion, can help them make better choices when it comes to food. When children realize that healthy foods help build strong bodies, they get the start they need for a healthy life. Check it out, and this week, teach a child about digestion.

Probiotics and Pregnancy

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 11/18/2011


 

Results of a recent study suggest that regular consumption of dairy-based probiotics may be associated with lowered risk of preeclampsia in pregnant women. Preeclampsia is a condition during the second half of pregnancy in which high blood pressure and protein in the urine develop. The exact cause is unknown, but it can lead to complications since the only way to cure it is to give birth. Preterm labor may need to be induced in certain preeclampsia cases.

In the probiotic study, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, data were analyzed from 33,399 Norwegian women. It was found that the women who regularly consumed lactobacilli-containing dairy products also had a 20 percent reduced risk in developing preeclampsia.

While this study does not prove causality, it only shows an association; studies like these pave the way for further trials investigating just what is happening here. The researchers stated, “Further strain/species-specific investigation is warranted with the use of randomized controlled trials for further evaluation of the effect of probiotics on preeclampsia.” The researchers suggested two possible explanations for probiotic benefit to preeclampsia: a possible local effect on cells surrounding the embryo, and/or an overall reduction in inflammation levels.

Taking probiotics during pregnancy has also been found to reduce belly size after pregnancy, maintain healthy blood sugar, and even help reduce later allergic illnesses. Always be sure to talk to your doctor about taking supplements during pregnancy, however. You want to be sure your doc is also on board.

Omega-3s From Fish Protect Against Obesity-Related Disease

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 11/16/2011


 

The benefits of omega-3 oils from fish were first noticed in Inuit populations of Greenland. Researchers noticed that these people consumed high amounts of fat, yet did not develop heart disease or experience heart attacks like people in the Western world. Thus began studies of the Inuit diet in which beneficial omega-3 fatty acids from fish—EPA and DHA—were found to be the heart-protective components.

Many thousands of studies later, the benefits of omega-3 fish oil are still being found in many different areas of health. In a new study of Yup’ik Eskimos in Alaska, researchers evaluated the effects of a high-fat fish-based diet on disease markers in obese Eskimos. The rate of obesity in these people is similar to that in the lower US—the difference is the source of dietary fat. In the US, saturated and trans fats are high in the diet, and healthy polyunsaturated fats, like omega-3s, are low.  

In obese Yup’ik Eskimos with the highest blood levels of EPA and DHA, blood triglyceride and C-reactive protein (a measure of overall inflammation) were the same as normal weight people. In those Eskimos with the lowest EPA and DHA levels, however, blood triglyceride and CRP levels were high. High triglycerides and CRP levels are risk factors for the development of cardiovascular disease and possibly diabetes.

Results of this study suggest that omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA found in fish may have health protecting effects even in obese people. More studies are needed to confirm these results, but this study is promising.

Now, don’t get carried away and think you can eat all the fatty foods you want and just pop a fish oil supplement. Instead choose healthy fats as part of your diet with plenty of fish on the menu, and supplement that with omega-3s from fish oil to be sure you’re getting enough of these great fats. Just be sure to look for a fish oil that meets International Fish Oil Standards (IFOS—look for the IFOS seal on the bottle).

Empty Calories vs Nutrient-Dense Foods

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 11/14/2011


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 keep hearing about nutrient-dense foods, and I like that term because it places high importance on foods that contain a high amount of nutrients, like fruits and veggies, beans and legumes, nuts and seeds, lean proteins and healthy fats like olive oil and fish oil.

In contrast, the term “empty calories depicts a food high in calories, but low in nutrients. Empty calories can be found all around us—often in processed foods high in refined flours and added sugars. These foods pack the calories (don’t forget the pounds and the negative health effects, too!) but lack the nutrients.

This week, adopt a new general rule (a very good general rule, I might add): try to eat as many nutrient-dense foods as you can, and minimize (or eliminate!) empty calories. Replace your sweetened beverages with non-sweetened green tea. Replace your dinner roll with extra veggies! Say good-bye to that ice-cream dessert and hello to some fruit with plain yogurt. These choices get easier to make over time, and your body will thank you.

Probiotics and the Gut-Brain Axis

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


 

The gut-brain axis involves the connection of the gut to the brain. This connection goes in both directions—from the brain to the gut and from the gut to the brain. In one way, the gut-brain axis is connected by the vagus nerve—a large nerve connecting the brain to the intestines and other organs. The vagus nerve both sends messages to various organs, and also receives messages from these organs—including the gut—to send to the brain. A new study has established the vagus nerve as a main form of communication from the gut bacteria to the brain.

In an animal model, researchers were able to show that mice fed the probiotic Lactobacillus rhamnosus JB-1 showed less stress-, anxiety-, and depression-related behaviors than did mice not fed the bacteria. Further, the probiotic mice had lower levels of the stress hormone corticosterone, and they also experienced changes in the expression of receptors of the neurotransmitter GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) in the brain—highlighting the ability of probiotics to directly affect brain chemistry under normal conditions.

This is an early study that will need to be replicated in humans, but studies like these pave the way for our understanding of the complexities of the gut connection. Did you ever think your gut could have such an effect on your health? If you read my blog regularly, I sure hope so!

Infectious Triggers of Alzheimer Disease

Filed in General | Posted by lsmith on 11/09/2011


Alzheimer disease is the most common form of dementia, accounting for 50 to 80 percent of all dementia cases. Dementia involves memory loss and other impaired intellectual abilities, all of which interfere with everyday life. Though most people with Alzheimer disease are over 65 years, up to five percent have early-onset Alzheimer’s, which usually appears during the mid-40s or 50s.

Beta-amyloid is a peptide found in plaques in the brains of people with Alzheimer disease. For a long time, it has been thought that beta amyloid-played a causative role in the neural degeneration of the disease. This may be a mistaken belief, however, as highlighted by a recent Phase III clinical trial on the anti-amyloid drug semagacestat. Patients in this trial were expected to improve on this drug, which interferes with the production of gamma-secretase, the enzyme that produces beta-amyloid. Instead, the drug “did not slow disease progression and was associated with worsening of clinical measures of cognitions and the ability to perform activities of daily living,” according to a press release put out by the drug manufacturer, pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly. The trial was stopped before completion.

As it turns out, beta-amyloid is an antimicrobial peptide, and is suggested to be secreted by the brain in self-defense against infectious pathogens, as David Perlmutter, M.D. stated at the Institute for Functional Medicine’s 20th Symposium this past summer. We know beta-amyloid plaque builds up in the brain in people with Alzheimer disease, but what if its presence was a self-defense mechanism rather than the actual root cause of Alzheimer’s?

In a recent study by researchers at Mass General Institute for Neurodegenerative Disease, we may have our answer. The researchers stated, “Rather than beta-amyloid acting as a sole independent initiator of neuroinflammation, our data raise the possibility that the peptide may be part of a response mounted by the innate immune system. An absence of the peptide may result in increased vulnerability to infection.”1

Two main pathogens are implicated as possible triggers of Alzheimer disease: Herpes simplex virus 1, the virus known for causing cold sores of the mouth, and found in about 90 percent of all adults; and Chlamydia pneumonia, the respiratory bacteria known to cause pneumonia.

In one study, the presence of anti-HSV IgM antibodies was found to be an even bigger risk factor for the development of Alzheimer disease than even the “Alzheimer’s gene” APOE4 allele.2 In describing how Herpes may lead to Alzheimer’s, the researchers state, “Recurrent reactivation of HSV might act as a potent stimulus to the brain microglia, increasing the level of cytokines and initiating a positive feedback cycle that gives rise to an increasing accumulation of pathological changes.”

DNA from HSV1 and from Chlamydia pneumoniae has been found in the brains of people with Alzheimer disease.3,4 HSV1 was found in specific areas affected by Alzheimer’s, and Chlamydia was actually cultured from brain samples taken from recently-deceased Alzheimer’s patients, indicating the virus was alive in the brain.

Chlamydia pneumonia is also known as the “heart attack” bacteria, found in the intraclavicular space/fluid between gums and teeth. The best prevention for this, incidentally, is the use of Plaquers dental floss; dental floss with a handle. When the bacterium is found, orthodontal work should be performed. People with high levels of hs C-reactive protein (a marker of inflammation in the body) are at particular risk for mouth infection with C. pneumoniae bacteria. C. pneumoniae is associated with heart disease because it is also commonly found in the soft plaques of people who die of acute heart attack.

Dr. Perlmutter recommends L-lysine and vitamin D3 supplementation, in addition to a diet high in lysine, which includes whole grains, fruits, vegetables, cheese, yoghurt and fish, and is low in tofu and other soy foods high in arginine. It is thought that activation of the virus, as with cold sore outbreaks, is a sign the virus might be active in other areas, like the brain. Preventing this may be helpful for people with Alzheimer’s.

So, why do people get infections in the first place, and why do these infections get activated? Well, lack of vitamin D, which is more common than most people realize, and uncontrolled blood sugar levels and insulin resistance, both triggered by a diet high in refined carbohydrates and sugar, are factors which affect both cellular and adaptive immunity, making us more prone to viral and bacterial infections.

It is important to note that there is much more to this story than infections. Alzheimer disease is a multifactorial “perfect storm” of triggers—usually inflammatory triggers—that interact and overlap, creating the final neurodegeneration of Alzheimer’s. Infectious triggers are just one small piece to this puzzle. For general protection against Alzheimer’s, remove sugar from the diet, reduce saturated fat intake, and incorporate vitamin D, omega-3 fish oil, pre- and probiotics, fiber and digestive enzymes. Be sure to sleep well, eliminate regularly, get plenty of exercise and be happy.

References

  1. Soscia SJ, et al., “The Alzheimer’s disease-associated amyloid beta-protein is an antimicrobial peptide.” PLoS One. 2010 Mar 3;5(3):e9505.
  2. Letenneur L, et al., “Seropositivity to herpes simplex virus antibodies and risk of Alzheimer’s disease: a population-based cohort study.” PLoS One. 2008;3(11):e3637.
  3. Itzhaki RF and Wozniak MA, “Herpes simplex virus type 1 in Alzheimer’s disease: the enemy within.” J Alzheimers Dis. 2008 May;13(4):393-405.
  4. Gerard HC, et al., “Chlamydophila (Chlamydia) pneumoniae in the Alzheimer’s brain.” FEMS Immunol Med Microbiol. 2006 Dec;48(3):355-66.