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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.

  • 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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Omega-3 DHA Counteracts the Harmful Effects of Sugar

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 05/30/2012


 

It is no secret that sugar is unhealthy. From high blood sugar to diabetes and heart disease, a diet high in sugar has far-reaching effects. But did you know that sugar is also bad for your brain? A recent study published in the Journal of Physiology found an interesting connection between a diet low in omega-3s and high in the sugar fructose, and poor memory and brain function. The researchers stated, “Eating a high-fructose diet over the long term alters your brain’s ability to learn and remember information. But adding omega-3 fatty acids to your meals can help minimize the damage.”

In the animal study, one group was fed a diet low in omega-3 fatty acids, and another group was fed a diet high in omega-3s from flaxseed and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). The omega-3 deficient animals were found to have poor memory function when compared to those fed a diet rich in omega-3s. The negative effects of a low omega-3 diet were exasperated when high amounts of fructose were added to the diet. In the group receiving sufficient omega-3s, however, a high fructose diet did not have the same negative effects on memory and neuron function, suggesting that omega-3s have a protective effect against the brain dysfunction caused by a high fructose diet.

It is well known that a high sugar diet increases blood sugar and insulin resistance in the bloodstream. This is the hallmark of the metabolic syndrome, an increasingly common condition that precedes type 2 diabetes. This study suggests that not only can a high sugar diet have effects in the bloodstream, but that it can also have similar effects in the brain. The study found disrupted insulin receptor signaling in the hippocampus, an area of the brain associated with memory function. Insulin and fructose are both known to cross the blood–brain barrier, where they can interrupt neuron function.

The findings of this study are not surprising. In fact, Alzheimer’s disease is also known as type 3 diabetes. The fact is, the amount of sugar—and even carbohydrates, for that matter—in the Standard American Diet (SAD) is alarmingly high. I am about to debut a one-time airing of my new PBS show next week on this very topic. The show, called The Heart of Perfect Health, is a preview that airs in the greater Baltimore area and that will air nationwide in November. Look for an announcement later this week!

Probiotics Reviewed for Antibiotic-Associated Diarrhea

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 05/25/2012


 

One of the most, well-studied benefits of probiotics is the prevention of diarrhea in people taking antibiotics (a condition known as antibiotic-associated diarrhea, or AAD). A recent meta-analysis of 82 randomized controlled trials published in the Journal of the American Medical Association evaluated the effects of probiotics on AAD and found that probiotics use is associated with a 42 percent lower risk of AAD.

Antibiotic-associated diarrhea occurs in up to 30 percent of people taking antibiotics and can result in early termination of antibiotic therapy in people wanting to avoid the uncomfortable side effect. You have certainly heard that antibiotics should be taken until the prescription is finished, however; this is because antibiotics continue to kill microbes even after you feel better.

Antibiotics are one of the most important medications ever created, no doubt. But they are also widely overprescribed. Antibiotics kill both harmful and beneficial bacteria. When the beneficial bacteria are killed, potentially pathogenic bacteria can gain the upper hand. The result: diarrhea. One particular pathogen—C. difficile—especially wreaks havoc on the digestive tract. Clostridium difficile-associated diarrhea is one type of AAD you don’t want. Dr. Smith and I have blogged on it before.

The meta-analysis builds on many previous studies, reviews, and even meta-analyses. Due to the high number of new studies added in the past five years, this most recent analysis only strengthens the evidence. The studies included the probiotics Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, Saccharomyces, Streptococcus, Enterococcus, and Bacillus. Although the researchers stated that more research is needed to determine which strains are most beneficial, they stated, “this analysis found no evidence that the effectiveness varies systematically even by probiotic genus.”

Next time you are prescribed antibiotics, ask your doctor about taking a probiotic along with it.

Low Omega-3 Equals Smaller Brain and Less Memory

Filed in General | Posted by lsmith on 05/23/2012


A recent study published in the February 2012 issue of Neurology is now actually showing that people with a diet lacking in omega-3 fatty acids have lower brain volume and reduced brain function.1 We have known for some time that taking a fish oil supplement is good for your brain but now we are seeing that a lack of these fatty acids could actually cause brain dysfunction.

Using the participants of the Framingham Study, researchers recorded the red blood cell levels of DHA and EPA (omega-3 fatty acids) in 1,575 dementia-free people. MRI brain scans and cognitive evaluation that included a Logical Memory test, abstract reasoning skills, and attention and executive function abilities were also performed. Those participants with DHA levels in the bottom 25 percent were found to have the smallest brain volumes and scored the lowest in cognitive functions such as visual memory, executive function, and abstract thinking. Those participants with the highest levels of DHA within their red blood cells also had the largest brain volumes and the highest cognitive function. But that’s not all. Those with the highest DHA levels also had a 37 percent lower risk of Alzheimer disease and a 47 percent lower risk of all-cause dementia. That’s pretty substantial.

As well, the MRI findings in the lower brain volume participants represent a change equivalent to approximately 2 years of structural brain aging. So if you have low omega-3 DHA levels in your blood, expect that your brain is actually two years older than you are.

We know that higher dietary intake of omega-3 fatty acids in the form of fish oil supplements increases the amount of DHA omega-3 in red blood cells. Red blood cell membrane omega-3 levels represent averaged levels over the past 120 days.2 Levels of red blood cell DHA in the top quartile (the highest levels) may result in higher brain volume and improved cognitive function. This likely occurs by two main pathways: vascular and nonvascular.

Vascular Benefits:   Higher omega-3 levels improve the vasculature by reducing blood pressure, lowering risk of blood clots, reducing inflammation, and lowering blood triglyceride levels. Vascular risk factors, including cerebral atherosclerosis, have been associated with increased risk of dementia, as stated in the Neurology paper.

Nonvascular benefits of omega-3s, particularly DHA, are likely to occur in the brain, in which DHA is concentrated include:  Decrease in beta amyloid plaques, increase in brain derived neurotropic Factor (BDNF), synaptic protection with decreased free radicals and inflammation, and decrease in exitotoxic omega-6 arachidonic acid. The smaller brain volumes and greater white matter hyperintensity volumes found in people with lower DHA levels suggest DHA plays a major nonvascular role.

About two-thirds of brain matter is composed of fats. And the type of fats you eat will make a difference on your thought processes, mood and behavior, and memory.  If you eat nothing but saturated fat, expect that to go to your head as well. Make sure you take 1,000 mg of omega-3 supplement daily, and if anyone calls you a “fathead,” thank them and move on.

References

  1. Z.S. Tan, et al., “Red blood cell omega-3 fatty acid levels and markers of accelerated brain aging.” Neurology. 2012 Feb 28;78(9):658–64.
  2. L. Arab, “Biomarkers of fat and fatty acid intake.” J Nutr. 2003 Mar;133 Suppl 3:925S–932S.

Obesity Rate Slows, Yet the Problem Persists

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 05/21/2012


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!  

The US rate of obesity is currently 35 percent, up from 15 percent in 1980. A recent study funded by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that obesity rates will be 42 percent by the year 2030. That means almost half the country is projected to be not only overweight, but obese. The study did find that increases in the obesity rate are slowing, but are still on a slight increase. While this is, in part, good news, the sheer number of people who are currently obese—over 72 million people—is enough to majorly impact the health of the nation. This number will climb to over 100 million by 2030.

An HBO special entitled Weight of the Nation, a four-part documentary series, was created to educate the nation about this growing problem. The Institute of Medicine, Centers for Disease Control, and National Institutes of Health, in cooperation with the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, Kaiser Permanente, and HBO have all come together to spread the message about the consequences and challenges the nation faces, the impact on our children, and what choices can be made to help curb this enormous problem.

The dietary recommendations in the HBO special are in line with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans—which, in my and other’s opinions, still needs some help—but overall, it points people in the general direction of improving their health. As a nation, we’ve got to start somewhere. This will be a good start.

The Institute of Medicine has also put out a report, “Accelerating Progress in Obesity: Solving the Weight of the Nation,” in an effort to urge government and industry to step up to the plate by reducing unhealthy food options and increasing healthy options. Changes in the food industry will be a particularly important solution to this predicament in which we find ourselves.

This week, try to catch the documentary and consider the choices available to you as you go through your week. Is healthy food easily accessible? Is it affordable? Do you have easy access to exercise-friendly environments? Then consider your community. Does everyone in your community have the same access? The obesity problem we face is everyone’s responsibility.

 

Omega-3s and Irregular Heart Beat

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 05/18/2012


 

Omega-3 fatty acids are known for their heart-health benefits. From the reduction of triglyceride levels, balance of inflammation, and prevention of coronary events in people with heart disease to the improvement of abnormal cholesterol, omega-3 fatty acids found in fish affect the heart in many ways.

A recent study published in the journal Circulation adds to the support of omega-3s for the heart. The study found that the highest levels of omega-3 fatty acids were associated with a 29 percent reduction in the risk of atrial fibrillation, the most common form of heart arrhythmia, or irregular heartbeat, in older individuals.

The study was an observational study that needs further investigation to confirm the association. Because the study examined prevention, rather than treatment, of heart arrhythmia, it has the potential to lead to very important research. The researchers stated, “Given the aging of the population, the significant and growing public health burden of atrial fibrillation, and the limited treatment options once atrial fibrillation develops, our results highlight the need to investigate atrial physiological and arrhythmic mechanisms affected by total and individual [omega-3 fatty acids] and to test the efficacy of [omega-3 fatty acids] for preventing new onset of atrial fibrillation among older adults in a randomized intervention.”

I have previously blogged on omega-3s and irregular heartbeat. Heart arrhythmia is just one of an array of cardiovascular diseases—the number one killer of Americans. If we can find ways to prevent heart disease by addressing proper nutrition, including the omega-3s found in fish oil, I’m all for it!

Madonna’s Digestion

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 05/16/2012


 

Extra! Extra! Read all about it! Did you hear about Madonna’s diet? It’s full of fermented foods rich in probiotic bacteria to which her personal chef attributes Madonna’s excellent health. “The diet that Madonna is following is very sensible,” stated David Topping, chief food-nutrition researcher at Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization in Adelaide, Australia, “The bacteria that live inside you are fulfilling very important functions.”

Mayumi Nishimura prepares foods such as tempeh, miso, and fermented grains for Madonna, and states, “We eat food processed as little as possible.” The results are obvious—Madonna’s next world tour with 75 stops is slated to begin this month. At 53, she shows no signs of slowing down any time soon.

Remember that over a century ago Elie Metchnikoff hypothesized that certain intestinal bacteria “produce compounds useful against a premature ageing.” He was the first to introduce the idea that ingesting lactic acid bacteria—later identified as Lactobacillus—could reduce gut putrefaction and aging. Although the science behind specific anti-aging effects of probiotic bacteria is perhaps in its infancy (despite the hundred-year gap), probiotics are increasingly being studied for their beneficial effects for a wide range of health conditions.

After all, optimal digestion is the foundation upon which total-body health is built. Madonna’s on the right path if she’s cultivating a healthy gut flora.

Hold the Plastic

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 05/14/2012


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! 

Plastic is almost ubiquitous. To go through an entire day without using plastic is unheard of. Although a useful material, no doubt, the modern-day widespread use of plastic is beginning to close in on us. Researchers from Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego have found a 100-fold increase in plastic garbage in the ocean; and this increase is changing the marine habitat.

Have your heard of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch? It’s an area of the North Pacific Ocean littered with high amounts of plastic. Estimates vary on the size of this patch, ranging from twice the size of Hawaii to the size of the continental United States. Despite the disagreement in size, all parties agree that it’s growing.

So this week, take stock of your day-to-day life. Where are you using plastic that is not needed? If you still use plastic grocery bags, start there! Choose reusable bags instead. This alone would save landfills (and the oceans!) from a huge amount of plastic—if we all made the change. Where else can you cut back? How about food containers? Choose Pyrex over plastic. And when you do use plastic—recycle it; even if it’s not convenient, it’s worth it.

Not only are plastics harmful to our bodies, due to the toxins they emit, but they are harmful to our home—the earth. What are you doing to lessen this burden?

 

Fish Oil for Muscles

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 05/11/2012


 

When omega-3 fish oil comes to mind, heart health is usually the first benefit attributed to it. Brain health and joint health are a close second and third. Did you know that omega-3s may also be helpful for your muscles?

According to a recent study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, regular fish oil consumption, in conjunction with strength training, improved muscle force and function in elderly women. The study involved 45 women about 64 years old, all assigned to a strength training program. Fifteen women received a standard fish oil supplement containing 400 milligrams EPA and 300 milligrams DHA during the 90 days of strength training, and 15 women received the fish oil for 60 days before strength training, as well as throughout the strength training. Fifteen of the women strength trained, but did not take fish oil supplements.

All women experienced improvements in muscle force and function, but the women taking omega-3 fish oil saw even greater effects than the women not taking it. The results of this study may be particularly important for aging women. Not only does strength training help build bone, but muscular strength is also important for stability as we age. The researchers stated, “The use of fish oil supplementation in addition to strength training potentiates the neuromuscular system, enhancing the muscle strength and the functional capacity in elderly women. Thus, fish oil may be an attractive supplement for the elderly to maximize their neuromuscular responses to strength training, which is important to life quality.”

If you are not taking fish oil already for its array of health benefits, consider it. Improved muscle function is one small benefit in addition to many others you may gain from this amazing nutrient.

Fish Oil and Your Gums

Filed in General | Posted by lsmith on 05/09/2012


 

A recent review of studies presented at the Experimental Biology 2012 meeting in San Diego, CA evaluated whether fish oil supplementation could be a beneficial additional therapy for periodontitis, or gum disease. Researchers from Australia reviewed eight human studies and found improvements in clinical measures in all studies, but the two studies that used a combination of fish oil with aspirin found most benefit. More studies are needed to determine if fish oil plus aspirin is more beneficial than fish oil alone.

In one study, 900 milligrams of EPA+DHA and 81 milligrams of aspirin daily was added to a scaling and root planning procedure, and was found to improve probing depths and attachment at 3 and 6 months when compared to only the scaling and root planning procedure.2 Another study adding fish oil and aspirin to decalcified freeze-dried bone allograft found similar improvements in patients with gum disease.3

Fish oil alone may also be sufficient. One study evaluated dietary intake of EPA and DHA and found that low intake of DHA was associated with more periodontal disease events in elderly patients.4 Brenda also blogged last year about another study that found fish oil beneficial for gum disease.

Lead researcher of the review, Dr. Alison Coates stated, “I would recommend that people ensure they have a sufficient intake of long chain omega-3 fatty acids in their diet for general health. In Australia, these types of fatty acids are considered to be essential with about 500 milligrams recommended as the suggested dietary target.” Recommendations by the American Heart Association (AHA) are similar. AHA recommends the consumption of at least two fatty fish meals per week, which is the equivalent of about 500 milligrams of EPA+DHA fish oil daily. AHA also recommends 1 gram (1000 milligrams) of EPA+DHA daily for people with coronary heart disease, and 2–4 grams daily for people with high triglycerides.

The connection between heart disease and periodontal disease illustrates why omega-3 fish oil may also benefit periodontal disease. Both are inflammatory conditions, and omega-3s have anti-inflammatory effects in the body. It could also be that the omega-3s help to maintain tight connections between the gums and teeth (like the tight connections between intestinal lining cells). Thus, a good tooth-gum connection may prevent “leaky gum syndrome,” and block bacteria from creating pockets between the gum and tooth, which underlies the process of periodontitis. When periodontitis occurs, bacteria seed the blood, and can go to the coronary arteries, and create heart attacks even in people without heart disease! I often open fish oil capsules, rub the oil on the gums, and then floss to be sure the tissues get direct oil contact, as well as systemic benefits, of the omega-3 oils.

As you can see, the wide-reaching effects of omega-3 fatty acids—especially the EPA and DHA found in fish oil—are truly astounding. These studies are yet one more example of fish oils wide reaching effects.

References

  1. Federation of American Societies      for Experimental Biology (FASEB). “Fish oil could be therapy for      periodontal disease.” ScienceDaily,      24 Apr. 2012.
  2. H. El-Sharkawy, et al., “Adjunctive      treatment of chronic periodontitis with daily dietary supplementation with      omega-3 Fatty acids and low-dose aspirin.” J Periodontol. 2010 Nov;81(11):1635-43.
  3. A.M. Elkhouli, “The efficacy of      host response modulation therapy (omega-3 plus low-dose aspirin) as an      adjunctive treatment of chronic periodontitis (clinical and biochemical      study).” J Periodontal Res. 2011      Apr;46(2):261-8.
  4. M. Iwasaki, et al., “Longitudinal      relationship between dietary ω-3 fatty acids and periodontal disease.” Nutrition. 2010      Nov-Dec;26(11-12):1105-9.

 

Eat More Berries to Protect Your Brain

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 05/07/2012


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! 

Blueberries and strawberries are high in flavonoids, anti-inflammatory compounds found in certain plant foods. A recent study published in the Annals of Neurology found that increased consumption of blueberries and strawberries was associated with reduced cognitive decline in elderly women. The study, which utilized data from the Nurse’s Health Study, involved over 16,000 women. The women with the highest intake of berries delayed cognitive aging by up to 2.5 years.

The researchers stated, “Substantial biologic evidence supports our finding that berry and flavonoid intake may be related to cognition. Berry-derived anthocyanidins are uniquely and specifically capable of both crossing the blood–brain barrier and localizing in brain regions involved in learning and memory…. We provide the first epidemiologic evidence that berries may slow progression of cognitive decline in elderly women.”

I often recommend berries as a low-sugar fruit that packs a health punch. This week, add more berries to your diet. Put a handful in your salad. Eat them as a snack. Or add berries to Greek yogurt for breakfast (add two tablespoons of whipped cream for a yummy desert).