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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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Cantaloupe Concerns—Deadly Listeria Outbreak

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 12/30/2011


 

You’ve probably heard about the deadly listeria outbreak linked to cantaloupe grown on a Colorado farm, Jensen Farms. Twenty-one deaths (and counting) have been reported out of 109 people infected with the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes in over 20 states.

The cantaloupes were voluntarily recalled on September 14, but cantaloupes may still be in refrigerators across the country. Jensen Farms or Rocky Ford-branded cantaloupes should be avoided. Worse, listeria infection can take up to two months to develop in a person who has eaten the cantaloupe, so more illnesses are expected to occur, even after the fruits has been recalled. The CDC and FDA say that cantaloupes from other farms are safe to eat, as this outbreak has been linked to only one farm.

Listeriosis, the disease caused by listeria bacteria, is rare, but is deadly to 30 percent of people infected. Among the elderly, 90 percent are hospitalized after infection. In pregnant women listeria usually causes mild illness, but can result in stillbirths or miscarriages. Previously, listeria outbreaks were mostly associated with deli meats and soft cheeses. Pregnant women are usually cautioned to avoid processed meats and soft cheeses for this reason. Cantaloupe may now be added to that list.

Cantaloupes are known to be more susceptible to bacteria contamination due to their rough skin, a veritable hide-out for bacteria. If listeria is present on the rind, when cut open, the bacteria will contaminate the fruit. It is also more difficult to clean cantaloupe because of the rough surface. It’s probably best to clean the skin, and then also rinse the cut fruit before eating.

For the latest updates, visit the CDC’s listeria webpage.

Flame Retardants and Lower-Birth-Weight Babies

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 12/28/2011


 

During pregnancy, mothers-to-be generally try to eat better and take better care of themselves in the hopes of improving the health of their infants. Pregnant moms may also try avoiding certain chemical exposures like cigarette smoke and even harsh cleaning products. This can be a tricky task, however. One recent study has found that flame retardant exposure—a difficult exposure to avoid—is linked to lower birth weight in babies.

The study, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, found that for every tenfold increase in PBDE (polybrominated diphenyl ether) levels in the mother’s blood, there was a 4.1 ounce drop in the baby’s birth weight. Lead researcher Kim Harley, from the University of California, Berkley’s School of Public Health, stated, “What we saw was a shift toward lighter babies among women with higher PBDE exposure rather than a dramatic increase in the number of low birth weight babies.” For babies already at risk for low birth weight for other reasons, 4.1 ounces would make a big difference.

The PBDEs tested for in the study were actually phased out of use in 2004, but because they are found in many household items, their persistence is still widespread. These chemicals leach from furniture, upholstery, carpet, electronics and more (even baby products and children’s pajamas!), and are stored in fat cells. Flame retardants have been linked to reduced fertility and thyroid dysfunction in women.

How do we get out of this toxic soup? Well, we can’t. But the researchers do recommend wet mopping when dusting since flame retardants are concentrated in dust, and frequent hand washing to avoid ingesting these chemicals.

Vitamin D and IBD

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 12/26/2011


 

Inflammatory bowel disease, or IBD, is characterized by inflammation of the intestines, and is most notably represented as Crohn’s disease, which usually affects the small intestine, but may affect other areas of the digestive tract, and ulcerative colitis, which usually affects the large intestine, or colon.

Two recent studies, presented at the American College of Gastroenterology’s 76th Annual Scientific Meeting, discovered a connection between IBD and vitamin D status, or with latitude of geographic location at age 30. Latitude has been found to be strongly correlated with vitamin D status, because vitamin D is most commonly obtained through UV sun exposure. Those people living at higher latitudes are more likely to have insufficient vitamin D status; thus, the vitamin D connection to IBD.

In one study, it was found that people who lived in northern US latitudes at age 30 were more likely to later develop IBD. The researchers stated, “This differential risk may be explained by differences in UV light exposure, vitamin D status, or pollution.” The risk of developing Crohn’s disease was 50 percent lower in those people living in southern latitudes at age 30, and for ulcerative colitis, it was 35 percent lower.

In the second study, vitamin D3 supplementation was given to Crohn’s patients with low blood levels of vitamin D. The low-dose group received 1,000 IU daily, and the high-dose group received 10,000 IU daily. After 26 weeks of supplementation, there were differences in vitamin D levels, but more importantly, there was a significant improvement of disease symptoms in the high-dose compared to the low-dose group.

So many conditions are affected by insufficient vitamin D levels. If you do not know your vitamin D level, get it checked, even if you live in the south. Most integrative doctors recommend a vitamin D level of at least 50 ng/dL.

Diarrhea After Antibiotics—Probiotics May Help

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 12/23/2011


 

In some people who take antibiotics, the uncomfortable side effect of diarrhea results. This happens because antibiotics disturb the gut bacterial balance. Antibiotics, aptly named as they are, work by killing bacteria—both good and bad bacteria. This alteration of gut bacteria can result in an imbalance that favors pathogenic bacteria, resulting in diarrhea. This is known as antibiotic-associated diarrhea (AAD). One of the most severe forms of AAD is Clostridium difficile-associated diarrhea.

A recent review of 22 studies, and a recent meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials, both sought to determine the effectiveness of probiotics on the prevention of antibiotic-associated diarrhea. In the review, the lead researcher stated, “Overall in twenty-two studies, probiotic prophylaxis significantly reduced the odds ratio of developing AAD by approximately 60 percent. This analysis clearly demonstrates that probiotics offer protective benefit in the prevention of these diseases.” A researcher presenting the results of the meta-analysis stated, “The preventive effect of probiotic use remained significant regardless of species used, adult versus child populations, study quality score and antibiotic administered.”

These findings were presented at the American College of Gastroenterology’s 76th Annual Scientific Meeting in Washington, D.C. in late October. The acknowledgement of the beneficial effects of probiotics by such a group is encouraging. Certainly, the evidence is impossible to ignore. Next time you are prescribed antibiotics, ask your doctor about taking probiotics. If your doctor is not familiar with probiotics, educate him/her!

High Blood Sugar Linked to Colorectal Cancer And More

Filed in General | Posted by lsmith on 12/21/2011


Colorectal cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer, and the third leading cause of cancer death in men and women in the United States. A recent study published in the British Journal of Cancer, involving over 5,000 women from the Women’s Health Initiative study, has found a link between high blood sugar levels and colorectal cancer in postmenopausal women.1

At the beginning of the study, and on several more occasions over 12 years, fasting blood sugar and insulin levels were measured. At the end of the 12-year study, 81 women out of over 5,000 had developed colorectal cancer. Women with the highest blood glucose levels were twice as likely to have developed colorectal cancer as the women with the lowest levels.

The next step, the researchers stated, is to find the mechanism, or to find out how high blood sugar leads to colorectal cancer. The lead researcher, Geoffrey Kabat, Ph.D., states, “It’s possible that elevated glucose levels are linked to increased blood levels of growth factors and inflammatory factors that spur the growth of intestinal polyps, some of which later develop into cancer.” Other studies have found a link between elevated insulin levels, which occur as a result of prolonged elevation of blood sugar levels, and colorectal cancer.2

Elevated blood sugar does a whole lot more than lead to colorectal cancer. High blood sugar leads to insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, gestational diabetes, heart disease, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), Alzheimer’s disease, and more. Furthermore, insulin resistance increases fat deposition which will lead to further production of inflammatory cytokines and more inflammation throughout the body.

Maintaining healthy blood sugar levels is crucial for optimal health. I recommend a glucose and insulin tolerance test, measuring glucose and insulin at one and two hours. Also, the A1c test is will help to measure how well blood sugar levels are managed over time, as it’s a measure of your average blood sugar level for the past two to three months.

If your blood glucose and insulin levels are out of normal range, you’re in trouble. In fact, if you are overweight, or if you have abdominal fat, you’re in trouble. Belly fat is considered to be an organ of its own,3 churning out pro-inflammatory cytokines, and contributing to many different chronic diseases. If you are overweight or have belly fat, it’s likely you also have elevated blood sugar or insulin, or that you’re heading in that direction, which leads down a path of chronic disease.

The Standard American Diet (SAD) is high in grain-based carbohydrates and low in vegetable-based carbohydrates, high in refined sugars and low in fiber, and high in unhealthy fats and low in healthy fats. All of these factors contribute to poor health. Elevated blood sugar and insulin levels occur as a result of eating the SAD diet. Change your diet if it’s not high in vegetables, healthy fats, leans proteins, seeds and nuts. These foods will help protect against high blood sugar levels.

References

  1. G.C. Kabat, et al., “A longitudinal study of serum insulin and glucose levels in relation to colorectal cancer risk among postmenopausal women.” Brit J Cancer.2011 Nov 29; advanced online pub.
  2. M.J. Gunter, et al., “Insulin, insulin-like growth factor-I, endogenous estradiol, and risk of colorectal cancer in postmenopausal women.” Cancer Res. 2008 Jan 1;68(1):329-37.
  3. E.E. Kershaw and J.S. Flier, “Adipose tissue as an endocrine organ.” J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2004 Jun;89(6):2548-56.

Twinkies For Breakfast?!

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 12/19/2011


 

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has done it again. EWG is a public health non-profit organization on a mission to use the power of public information to protect public health and the environment. That’s a tall order for any organization, and EWG is doing a fine job.

Their latest project involves the assessment of 84 breakfast cereals marketed to children. What they found was that some cereals had more sugar than a Twinkie, which contains 18 g of sugar. More than half of all cereals assessed contained more sugar than three Chips Ahoy! cookies, which contain 11 g of sugar. The report summed it up well: “Most parents say no to dessert for breakfast, but many children’s cereals have just as much sugar as a dessert—or more.”

Here is a list of the 10 worst children’s cereals:

Kelloggs, Honey Smacks

Post Golden Crisp

Kellogg’s Froot Loops Marshmallow

Quaker Oats Cap’n Crunch’s OOPS! All Berries

Quaker Oats Cap’n Crunch Original

Quaker Oats Oh!s

Kellogg Smorz

Kellogg’s Smorz

Quaker Oats Cap’n Crunch’s Crunch Berries

Kellogg’s Froot Loops Original

So this week, it’s time to assess your breakfast pantry. If you happen to eat these cereals, or feed them to your children—STOP! But don’t stop there. Check the sugar content—and the carbohydrate and fiber content for that matter—on your breakfast foods. The problem with most breakfast cereals is that they are high in carbohydrates and low in protein and fiber. Protein helps give you brain power that lasts throughout the day, and fiber helps reduce the absorption of sugar in the body. Try eggs for breakfast instead of cereal, or a protein shake.

Alcohol Consumption and Your Gut

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 12/16/2011


 

Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) is gut condition in which there are abnormally large numbers of gut bacteria in the terminal ileum of the small intestine (the end of the small intestine, just before the colon). SIBO is one form of dysbiosis, or gut imbalance. Normally, the colon is where gut bacteria greatly increase in number, with the small intestine housing smaller numbers of bacteria. In SIBO, the high amount of gut bacteria in the small intestine leads to excess gas and discomfort. The condition is common in people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

It has been known for a while that SIBO is more common in alcoholics, but a recent study is the first to look at the relationship of SIBO in people with moderate alcohol consumption. As it turns out, the researchers, from the Mayo Clinic and Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, found that moderate alcohol consumption—one drink per day in women and two per day in men—could lead to SIBO.

Dr. Gabbard, the lead researcher, stated, “While typical treatment for SIBO has been antibiotics, probiotics or a combination of the two, the question now becomes what is the exact association between moderate alcohol consumption and SIBO and whether alcohol cessation can be used as a treatment for this potentially harmful condition.”

Certainly, the things we consume—food, drink and medication—affect our gut. If you have been considering decreasing your alcohol intake (there are many good reasons to do so), it may just help improve your gut balance.

Physician Bias, or Pharmaceutical Influence?

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 12/14/2011


 

A team of researchers at Mayo Clinic recently uncovered an interesting physician bias regarding the diagnosis of the upper digestive conditions gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and functional dyspepsia (also known as indigestion). The two conditions can overlap, but each condition has its own distinct symptoms.

The researchers uncovered a bias on the part of physicians who diagnosed the two conditions. Although the number of GERD diagnoses has increased in the last 20 years, the reported GERD symptoms have decreased. When symptoms of both conditions are present, the most common diagnosis is GERD. Further, when only symptoms of functional dyspepsia are present, diagnosis of GERD is still more likely.

I believe this is due to the influence of the pharmaceutical industry over doctors when it comes to treating upper GI conditions with proton-pump inhibitors (PPIs), among the most commonly prescribed drugs today. Proton pump inhibitors were first used to treat peptic ulcers until it was discovered that peptic ulcers are not the result of too much stomach acid, but instead the result of infection with a bacterium known as Helicobacter pylori. Without a condition to treat, the focus of these drugs was turned to heartburn. Thus began widespread belief that heartburn was simply the result of too much stomach acid. To the rescue: Proton pump inhibitors and acid blockers.

As the Mayo Clinic study shows, functional dyspepsia is also now transitioning into a category in which proton pump inhibitors come to the rescue. But PPIs are not FDA approved to treat functional dyspepsia. Instead, doctors are seeing its symptoms—incomplete digestion, bloating, belching, excessive fullness, delayed stomach emptying—as those of GERD, a condition for which they have a well-known drug to treat it with.

The findings of this study are not surprising. The pharmaceutical companies have a lot of influence—on us (who hasn’t seen a pharmaceutical commercial or magazine ad lately), and on physicians (many of whose pockets are lined by these companies, in one way or another). Fortunately, when it comes to digestion, there are many dietary and lifestyle changes that can be made to improve the condition. If you are dealing with these conditions, or trying to avoid them, educate yourself!

It is true that functional dyspepsia can be difficult to treat. I have found that digestive enzymes are very helpful with easing the symptoms associated with this condition, which often result from poor diet, poor eating habits, and insufficient digestive enzyme production, all of which can be helped by digestive enzymes.

Arsenic in Apple Juice

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


Renew You Challenge

Let’s start this week off right!

 

Here is your newest 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! 

Back in September, Dr. Oz made headlines when he told viewers that tests he had commissioned found over 25 percent of apple-juice samples tested had arsenic levels over 10 parts per billion (ppb). There is no federal arsenic limit for juice, but for public water the limit is 10 ppb, and for bottled water the limit is 5 ppb. At the time, the Food and Drug Administration claimed that the arsenic was in organic form, an “essentially harmless” form found in many foods. It was later discovered that the arsenic was inorganic—the form known to be toxic to humans.

To follow up on these tests, Consumer Labs has tested 88 samples of apple and grape juice, and found that ten percent of the samples exceeded the 10 ppb limit that is set for public water, and 25 percent exceeded the 5 ppb limit set for bottled water. The following brands had at least one sample of apple juice that exceeded 10 ppb: Apple & Eve, Great Value (Walmart), and Mott’s. Brands that exceeded 5 ppb: America’s Choice (A&P), Gerber, Gold Emblem (CVS), Great Value, Joe’s Kids (Trader Joe’s), Minute Maid, Seneca, and Walgreens.

The arsenic is likely coming from arsenic-contaminated soils, the result of lead-arsenate pesticides used decades ago that remains in the soil. Apples grown on these soils take up the arsenic, and it ends up in apple juice. Consumers Union, the advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, is urging the FDA to set the standard at 3 ppb for total arsenic and 5 ppb for lead in juice to establish a more protective limit for public health.

Consumer Reports took their investigation to the next level by analyzing data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), which is an enormous national survey that collects data on health and nutrition status of Americans. This analysis found that the consumption of these juices, especially in young children, “may be an important contributor to dietary arsenic exposure,” according to Richard Stalhut, M.D., M.P.H., an environmental health researcher with expertise in NHANES data.

To read the full test results of all 88 samples, click here. Also, read my past blog on lead in fruit juices and packaged fruit products.

This week, if you are drinking these brands of apple or grape juice, get rid of them. And give the companies a call to let them know your disgust. Then, find a replacement. Sugar-sweetened beverages are contributing to the childhood obesity epidemic, so it might be time to switch to water.

Renew You Challenge

Let’s start this week off right!

 

Here is your newest 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! 

Arsenic in Apple Juice

Back in September, Dr. Oz made headlines when he told viewers that tests he had commissioned found over 25 percent of apple-juice samples tested had arsenic levels over 10 parts per billion (ppb). There is no federal arsenic limit for juice, but for public water the limit is 10 ppb, and for bottled water the limit is 5 ppb. At the time, the Food and Drug Administration claimed that the arsenic was in organic form, an “essentially harmless” form found in many foods. It was later discovered that the arsenic was inorganic—the form known to be toxic to humans.

To follow up on these tests, Consumer Labs has tested 88 samples of apple and grape juice, and found that ten percent of the samples exceeded the 10 ppb limit that is set for public water, and 25 percent exceeded the 5 ppb limit set for bottled water. The following brands had at least one sample of apple juice that exceeded 10 ppb: Apple & Eve, Great Value (Walmart), and Mott’s. Brands that exceeded 5 ppb: America’s Choice (A&P), Gerber, Gold Emblem (CVS), Great Value, Joe’s Kids (Trader Joe’s), Minute Maid, Seneca, and Walgreens.

The arsenic is likely coming from arsenic-contaminated soils, the result of lead-arsenate pesticides used decades ago that remains in the soil. Apples grown on these soils take up the arsenic, and it ends up in apple juice. Consumers Union, the advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, is urging the FDA to set the standard at 3 ppb for total arsenic and 5 ppb for lead in juice to establish a more protective limit for public health.

Consumer Reports took their investigation to the next level by analyzing data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), which is an enormous national survey that collects data on health and nutrition status of Americans. This analysis found that the consumption of these juices, especially in young children, “may be an important contributor to dietary arsenic exposure,” according to Richard Stalhut, M.D., M.P.H., an environmental health researcher with expertise in NHANES data.

To read the full test results of all 88 samples, click here. Also, read my past blog on lead in fruit juices and packaged fruit products.

This week, if you are drinking these brands of apple or grape juice, get rid of them. And give the companies a call to let them know your disgust. Then, find a replacement. Sugar-sweetened beverages are contributing to the childhood obesity epidemic, so it might be time to switch to water.

Keywords – arsenic, arsenic levels, apple juice, grape juice, arsenic-contaminated soils, pesticides, lead, public health, NHANES, children, dietary arsenic exposure, environmental, samples, sugar, water

Heavy Metals in Jewelry

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 12/09/2011


 

You know that cute little charm bracelet you picked up last week on the sale rack at your favorite shop? It might have higher levels of the heavy metal cadmium than you’d like. This has become such a problem that five states have passed legislation limiting cadmium in jewelry, but mostly in items intended for children, since children tend to put these items (and anything, really) into their mouths, increasing their risk of poisoning.

Good news comes from major retailers like Target Corp. and Gap Inc., who have agreed to all but eliminate cadmium in jewelry and other accessories they sell. In 2012 in California, jewelry sold must contain less than 0.03 percent cadmium. This effectively becomes the national limit, because manufacturers will make their products to comply with California, and will likely make the same products for the rest of the country.

This all started last year when it was discovered that children’s jewelry no longer contained lead (which was banned), but rather, contained cadmium, which was not regulated. Cadmium can damage kidneys and bones, and may stunt the development of young brains. It’s not something you want little Janey putting into her mouth.

I’m glad these new standards are being set. They’re not just for children’s jewelry, but also for adults. In the meantime, you might want to stick with sterling silver.