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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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      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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      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 & Health

      Healthy pH levels, whether in the colon or systemic, are found when you eat a high-fiber diet, high in vegetables and fruits, healthy proteins, and healthy fats. Complement this with foods and supplements high in beneficial bacteria, omega-3 fatty acids, and digestive enzymes, and you will be supporting optimal health (which begins in the digestive system).

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Dysbiosis and Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 03/30/2012

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), most notably including Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, is a serious digestive condition for which we are only beginning to understand the underlying causes. Dysbiosis, or an imbalance of the gut microbes, is one relatively recent factor found to contribute to the development of IBD. One major contributor to the development of dysbiosis is antibiotic use.

A recent study published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology concluded, “Subjects diagnosed with IBD were more likely to have been prescribed antibiotics 2–5 years before their diagnosis. This possibly implicates antibiotic use as a predisposing factor in [the cause of] IBD.”

Antibiotic use alters the gut flora, with some studies finding the alteration to last months or even years after discontinuation of the antibiotic. IBD is known to involve a decrease in gut flora diversity and an increase in bacteria that penetrate the protective lining of the intestine. Thus, the interest of researchers in the role of antibiotic use as a possible cause of IBD is well supported.

In the study, involving over 24,000 individuals (more than 2,000 diagnosed with IBD),  it was found that the risk of developing IBD 2–5 years after antibiotic use increased as the number of antibiotic uses increased. In other words, if a person used antibiotics 3 times, they had a greater risk of IBD than those who used antibiotics only once.  

Antibiotic use is obviously necessary for certain conditions (and often unnecessary for others). Supporting the ensuing gut imbalance that follows antibiotic use with probiotics (beneficial gut bacteria) is recommended. Talk to your doctor about it.

People with IBD face a long journey of healing during which the optimization of gut function is very important. Addressing gut imbalance is vital in these folks.



Daily Levels of Toxin Exposure Not Safe

Filed in General | Posted by lsmith on 03/29/2012

An important report on the dangers of low doses of toxins, similar to doses encountered by people in everyday life, has been published in the journal Endocrine Reviews.1 Twelve scientists spent three years compiling the 78-page report on the low-dose effects of endocrine-disrupting chemicals, also known as hormone disruptors, and their harmful effects that interfere with normal hormone function.

Chemicals analyzed in the report include bisphenol A (BPA), the pesticide atrazine, and dioxins. Lead researcher Laura Vandenberg stated, “We should never assume that because an exposure is tiny that it is safe. For example, a large amount of dioxin would kill you, but a very small dose, similar to what people are exposed to from eating contaminated foods, increases women’s risk of reproductive abnormalities.”2

The report calls for a change in how chemical safety is assessed. The study “suggests that the current regulatory format for testing chemicals, where high doses are fed to rodents and then “safe” lower doses are calculated but never actually tested, is inappropriate—and ineffective—for these compounds. Instead, they should be tested at very low levels in the range of human exposures,” says Vandenberg.3

The study concludes, “Fundamental changes in chemical testing and safety determination are needed to protect human health.” Toxicologists have long relied on what is known as the hormetic effect to help justify current testing, and even reduction of restrictions on pollutants. Hormesis involves the effects of low doses of stressors—whether toxins, radiation, or even exercise—and the response of the body to stressors that produces a net positive effect. Certain stressors, like physical exercise, are beneficial in the long run despite their initial damage to the body. Although toxins have been suggested as having a hormetic effect at low doses, science is refuting this idea. Studies are finding that the harmful additive effect of toxins is greater than the sum of its parts. This study goes a long way to show that low doses of toxins are not safe.

As the field of epigenetics expands, increasing our understanding of the effects of the environment on gene expression, we will be more accurately able to assess the dangers of the toxins we encounter. Dr. Moshe Szyf, Professor of Pharmacology at McGill University, studies the effects of chemicals on gene expression and states, “It is becoming increasingly apparent that chemicals can cause changes in gene expression that persist long after exposure has ceased.”4

Before you decide to move to a pristine island in the middle of nowhere to avoid the toxic onslaught encountered in everyday life, take a deep breath. Rather than throw your hands in the air concluding, “Damned if I do, damned if I don’t,” there are small changes you can make to reduce your toxic exposure. These small changes can make a difference. Reduce exposure where you can, and support the seven channels of elimination: colon, liver, lungs, lymph, kidney, skin, and blood. And let’s hope studies like these lead to changes in chemical safety testing.


  1. L.N. Vandenberg, et al., “Hormones and endocrine-disrupting chemicals: Low-dose effects and nonmonotonic dose responses.” Endocrine Reviews. March 14, 2012 er. 2011-1050.
  2. www.environmentalhealthnews.org/ehs/news/2012/opinion-endocrine-disruptors-low-level-effects
  3. Ibid.
  4. A.B. Csoka and M. Szyf, “Epigenetic side-effects of common pharmaceuticals: a potential new field in medicine and pharmacology.” Med Hypotheses. 2009 Nov;73(5):770-80.

Spring Cleaning

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 03/26/2012

Now that spring is here, it’s time for some deep cleaning—of your cupboard, that is. Take an inventory of what’s in your refrigerator and pantry. Here are a few pointers on what to keep and what to toss:

  • If it’s a fresh or frozen fruit or vegetables, keep it.
  • If it contains added sugar (or any of the pseudo sugars like cane syrup, agave syrup, or the like) or high fructose corn syrup, toss it.
  • If it doesn’t have an ingredient label, chances are you should keep it.
  • If it has a long list of ingredients you can’t pronounce, toss it.
  • If it doesn’t last much longer than a few days or a few weeks in the fridge, keep it.
  • If it sits on the shelf for years without a change (which means it’s full of preservatives), toss it.
  • If it contains gluten (wheat, barley, rye, or oats), consider that it might be wreaking havoc on your digestive system, whether you realize it or not. Why not toss it and see how you do without for at least six weeks? The results may astound you.
  • If it’s high in carbs and low in fiber, toss it.
  • If it’s high in fiber and low in carbs, keep it.

Think of cleaning your pantry this spring as a deep cleanse of your home—the home that is your body. What are you going to keep and what are you going to toss this spring?





Probiotics and Preeclampsia

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 03/23/2012

Late in 2011, a study was published in the American Journal of Epidemiology that found an association between consumption of probiotic milk products and the reduced risk of developing preeclampsia, a serious pregnancy condition involving high blood pressure and high levels of protein in the urine. Preeclampsia is one of the leading causes of maternal death worldwide, estimated to affect between 2 and 8 percent of all pregnancies.

Because inflammation is an underlying feature of preeclampsia, and because diet and the gut microflora can contribute to inflammation throughout the body and have been suggested as having effects on blood pressure, researchers hypothesized that intake of food with probiotics might delay and reduce preeclampsia.

The analysis of over 33,000 pregnant women in Norway, in the Mother and Child Cohort Study, found that when the women who consumed at least 4.7 ounces of milk products containing probiotics during the first half of pregnancy their risk of developing preeclampsia, especially severe preeclampsia, was reduced. A weak dose-dependent association was found, meaning that the more probiotic milk the women consumed, the more benefit they experienced.

The study will have to be confirmed by follow-up with a randomized controlled trial using probiotics or probiotic food during pregnancy, but this preliminary study certainly adds to a large amount of evidence in support of the benefits of probiotics during pregnancy. Talk with your doctor about taking a probiotic if you are pregnant and think it would be beneficial for you.



Health Risks of Statin Drugs

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 03/21/2012

In February of this year the FDA issued advice on the risks of taking statin drugs. They warn that people being treated with statins may be at increased risk for developing type 2 diabetes, and that cognitive impairment, such as memory loss, forgetfulness, and confusion, has been reported by some statin users. Statin drugs are one of the most widely prescribed drugs in the world. In the United States alone over 20 million people are prescribed statins each year.

In a recent study involving postmenopausal women enrolled in the Women’s Health Initiative and published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, statin use was associated with a 48 percent increased  risk of developing type 2 diabetes when compared to women not taking the drug. Other studies have linked statin use and diabetes in men: A 2011 analysis published in the Journal of the American Medical Association and a 2010 analysis published in the Lancet also found increased risk of diabetes in people taking statins.

Some experts are minimizing these risks by saying the benefits outweigh the increased risk of diabetes. Not all experts agree, however. Rita Redburg, a cardiologist at the University of California, San Francisco Medical Center, said the increased diabetes risk “raises the concern that over time the diabetes risk will outweigh the cholesterol-lowering benefit on overall risk of cardiovascular disease.”

Although diet and lifestyle changes have been found to lower LDL cholesterol levels, many people opt for statins over making the changes necessary to get cholesterol levels under control. Perhaps this new advice on statin risks might provide the motivation for people to start making some diet and lifestyle changes. It can seem like changing diet and finding time (or energy) to exercise is the hard route, but I can tell you—diabetes is no walk in the park.

I will soon be taping my next PBS show, The Heart of Perfect Health, in which I delve into the root causes of heart disease and show you how to reclaim control of your health by making some simple changes. And of course, I will talk about how gut health is at the heart of total body health. I’ll talk more about the show, and my upcoming book, as the months go on. Stay tuned.



Over-the-counter PPIs Not to Be Taken Over Two Weeks

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 03/20/2012

I saw an ad in a prominent health magazine the other day that ticked me off. It’s an ad for Prilosec, an over-the-counter proton pump inhibitor (PPI). The ad said, “Suffering from heartburn day after day is as unnecessary as wearing sleeves.” (Larry the Cable Guy was in the ad—he never wears sleeves; thus, the reference.)

 The ad went on to say, “Don’t be one of them folks (again, Larry the Cable Guy influenced) who gets heartburn and then treats, day after day. Block the acid by treating your frequent heartburn with Prilosec OTC and don’t get heartburn in the first place.”

 This ad talks about how you shouldn’t take other heartburn products every day after you get heartburn, but instead you should take Prilosec before you even get heartburn. They don’t directly tell you to take Prilosec every day, but it is certainly implied in the ad. The crazy thing is, Prilosec should not be taken for more than two weeks in a row, and not more often than every four months. There is even a little disclaimer right on the ad (required by the FDA):

 “Use as directed for 14 days to treat frequent heartburn. Do not take for more than 14 days or more often than every 4 months unless directed by a doctor.” It also says, “Not for immediate relief.”

I find this ad very misleading. People are taking PPIs—over-the-counter and prescription—way too often, and for way too long. No one is reading the fine print. 

This week, if you are taking proton pump inhibitors, talk to your doctor about the risks, and about what you can do reduce the symptoms in the first place—without resorting to these dangerous medications.



Toxin Exposure and Loss of IQ in Children

Filed in General | Posted by shester on 03/16/2012

Three toxins that have been found to affect children’s developing brains and nervous systems—lead, organophosphate pesticides, and mercury—have been found to impact children’s IQ in the overall population, according to a recent study published online in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

Most studies evaluating the effects of toxins look at one toxin in a relatively small group of people. This new study instead analyzed published data on the impact of environmental exposures and medical conditions on childhood intelligence in 25.5 million children under age 5 in the United States.

The researchers found that lead exposure in U.S. children was related to about a 23 million IQ point loss in the population, the highest of the three toxins analyzed. Organophosphate pesticides represented a 17 million point loss in IQ over the population. Methylmercury accounted for 0.3 million IQ points lost, population wide.

When comparing these amounts of IQ loss to those from other medical conditions, the researchers found that preterm birth, which affects 12 percent of newborns, accounted for 34 million IQ points lost. ADHD (Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder) accounted for 17 million points lost, and autism and traumatic brain injuries each accounted for 7 million IQ points lost across the population. 

When combined, toxin exposure from lead, organophosphate pesticides, and mercury, account for more loss in IQ in U.S. children under 5 than does ADHD or preterm birth. This is a substantial effect in our children, yet, what is being done to reduce this exposure? Not enough, I say.


Antibiotics, PPIs, and Low-Fiber Diet Set the Stage for C. difficile infection

Filed in General | Posted by lsmith on 03/14/2012

Four weeks ago I began a blog series on the effects of proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) on the development of Clostridium difficile-associated diarrhea, a bacterial infection that has become more virulent and resistant to antibiotics over the last eight years.1 Today, I would like to talk about another possible contributor to C. difficile infection—a low-fiber diet.

The low-fiber diet connection was discovered in connection to C. difficile infection in critically ill, hospitalized individuals being fed enterally—that is, they were tube fed because of their severe illness.2 Tube feeding involves the use of elemental foods, or those foods that are completely broken down into already-absorbable nutrients and usually devoid of fiber.

Enteral feeding reduces stress on the digestive system in these critically ill patients. Enteral foods are lacking in one important ingredient that supports the health of beneficial gut bacteria—fiber. Because insoluble fiber is non-digestible, non-absorable and thought to over activate the bowels, it is not included in tube feeding.  Soluble fiber dissolves in water and is fermented by the commensal bacteria (neutral and probiotic bacteria). The fermentation produces short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs), one of which is butyrate, a SCFA that feeds and protects the colon lining.  Too much fermentation, especially in critically ill patients, can overly stimulate the gut and thus it is not added to an elemental diet. This policy of no fiber or prebiotics and probiotics added to tube feedings in many cases may change based studies like this one:

Stephen O’Keefe, MD, from the University of Pittsburg Division of Gastroenterology describes the effect of an enteral diet on microbial balance in the gut, “The absence of fiber and resistant starches not only disturbs microbiota balance further, but also deprives the colonic epithelium of its chief energy source and proliferation regulator, butyrate, a short-chain fatty acid that is synthesized by the microbiota during fermentation process. A further twist to the story is that butyrate deficiency in the colon potentiates the growth and toxin production of C. difficile organisms.”3

O’Keefe notes that fiber supplementation has not been systematically tested in the critically ill, but prebiotic (oligosaccharide) supplementation has been found to increase bifidobacteria counts and decrease diarrhea in patients with chronic relapsing C. difficile infection.

Perhaps researchers will put two and two together and test either prebiotics, probiotics, or both in tube fed individuals  along with moderate amounts of fiber. Indeed some studies have found probiotics to help improve immune function and decrease incidence of diarrhea in critically ill, tube fed patients.4 Further, probiotics have also been found helpful for C. difficile infection.5,6

It all boils down to gut balance. All the factors that increase C. difficile infection risk have to do with gut imbalance. Antibiotics, PPIs, and a low-fiber diet all contribute to gut imbalance, which could end with a C. difficile infection.


  1. L.C. McDonald, “An epidemic, toxin gene-variant strain of Clostridium difficile.” N Engl J Med. 2005 Dec 8;353(23):2433-41.
  2. D.Z. Bliss, et al., “Acquisition of Clostridium difficile and Clostridium difficile-associated diarrhea in hospitalized patients receiving tube feeding.” Ann Intern Med. 1998 Dec 15;129(12):1012-9.
  3. S.J. O’Keefe, “Tube feeding, the microbiota, and Clostridium difficile infection.” World J Gastroenterol. 2010 Jan 14;16(2):139-42.
  4. K. Madsen, “Probiotics in critically ill patients.” J Clin Gastroenterol. 2008 Sep;42 Suppl 3 Pt 1:S116-8.
  5. M. Pochapin, “The effect of probiotics on Clostridium difficile diarrhea.” Am J Gastroenterol. 2000 Jan;95(1 Suppl):S11-3.
  6. C.L. Rohde, et al., “The use of probiotics in the prevention and treatment of antibiotic-associated diarrhea with special interest in Clostridium difficile-associated diarrhea.” Nutr Clin Pract. 2009 Feb-Mar;24(1):33-40.


Fish Consumption in Children—Watch the Mercury

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 03/12/2012

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! 

Fish is the really the best source of the beneficial omega-3 fats EPA and DHA (eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid). Cold-water fatty fish is particularly high in these healthy fats. But fish is also high in mercury, a neurotoxin heavy metal linked to an array of health problems. Because of this, pregnant women are advised to limit fish intake during pregnancy. Limits have not been set for young children.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has set what it considers to be safe limits of blood mercury levels, but a recent study published in the journal Environmental Research has found that even at levels well below the EPA limits, those children with higher blood mercury levels were more likely to have decreased levels of the hormone cortisol, and higher levels of inflammatory markers in the blood.

Cortisol is known as the stress hormone, because it is released in response to stress. Healthy cortisol levels are needed for metabolism, and immune and hormone response. Both low and high levels of cortisol are considered unhealthy, however, so the low levels found in these children with higher mercury in the blood may be cause for concern.

Fish consumption is tricky topic. The omega-3s found in certain fish are simply deficient in the diets of most people. In children, omega-3s—especially DHA—contribute to healthy brain and nervous system development. But is the mercury exposure worth it?

If you are concerned about this, as I am, consider limiting fish consumption to occasional fish low in mercury—like salmon and sardines—and even then, supplement with a purified fish oil supplement to be sure you’re getting enough. Look for the IFOS (International Fish Oil Standards) icon to ensure your fish oil is pure.


Omega-3 Fish Oil and Memory

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 03/09/2012

The brain health benefits of the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil—EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid)—are many. In fact, I very recently blogged about a study that found low levels of omega-3s (and other nutrients) and higher levels of trans fats in association with brain shrinkage and poor memory and thinking in older adults.

Another study published in the same journal, Neurology, analyzed data from over 1500 people, and found that people with lower levels of EPA and DHA also had lower scores on tests of visual memory, executive function (includes problem solving and multi-tasking), and abstract thinking. Those with the lowest levels of DHA also had lower brain volumes as measured by MRI scans. These are subclinical markers of future dementia.

The lead researcher, Zaldy S. Tan, MD, MPH, stated, “People with lower blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids had lower brain volumes that were equivalent to about two years of structural brain aging. Lower red blood cell DHA levels are associated with smaller brain volumes and a ‘vascular’ pattern of cognitive impairment even in persons free of clinical dementia.”

DHA is an essential nutrient in the brain and retina (of the eye), required in high concentrations in these tissues for support of optimal mental performance and vision. The Standard American Diet (SAD) is sadly low in the omega-3s. It can be difficult to obtain enough omega-3 from diet alone, so consider a purified, concentrated fish oil supplement to optimize your levels of this beneficial nutrient.