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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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Your Gut and Your Happiness

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 06/29/2012


The gut-brain connection is among one of the most fascinating gut connections I have come across—and there are many gut connections. To think that what goes on in the gut can affect what goes on in our brains might seem unfathomable, but it’s true. I have blogged on it before—a number of times. A lot of research is still needed before we have a good handle on just how this all works, but until then, supporting healthy gut function should always be a part of returning to health.

A recent study published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry found that the absence of gut microbes during early development altered the production of serotonin, the feel-good hormone involved in the regulation of mood and emotion. In an animal model, males were affected more than females, and, most notably, the introduction of microbes later in life was unable to induce a return to normal serotonin levels. This suggests that early gut composition can have far-reaching effects that may be irreversible later in life.

“As a neuroscientist these findings are fascinating as they highlight the important role that gut bacteria play in the bidirectional communication between the gut and the brain, and opens up the intriguing opportunity of developing unique microbial-based strategies for treatment for brain disorders,” stated John Cryan, senior author of the paper. More research is needed, of course, but this study adds to the growing body of evidence in support of the gut-brain connection.

Phthalate Exposure Linked to Type 2 Diabetes

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 06/27/2012


If you know me, you know that I’m all about reducing toxin exposure and supporting the body’s detoxification processes. My book The Detox Strategy is a great resource for just that. I am concerned about the harmful effects toxins have on our bodies. With 80,000 chemicals in use today and over 1,000 new chemicals introduced each year—with minimal testing—we are swimming in a toxic soup. The idea that these chemicals are safe because they are used in small amounts is ridiculous. Scientists are slowly but surely coming to this same conclusion.

A recent study published in the journal Diabetes Care has found a link between increased blood levels of phthalates (chemicals added to plastics to increase flexibility) and the risk of type 2 diabetes. The study involved over 1,000 elderly men and women who were examined for fasting blood sugar, insulin and proinsulin levels, and blood levels of an array of toxins, including phthalate metabolites, markers of phthalate exposure.

Type 2 diabetes was most commonly found in overweight participants with high blood lipids, as expected, but it was also found in those with high levels of phthalates, even in people who did not have other traditional risk factors for diabetes. The presence of certain phthalates was associated with disrupted insulin secretion in the pancreas, and insulin resistance, a main feature of type 2 diabetes. The researchers concluded, “These findings support the view that these commonly used chemicals might influence major factors that are regulating glucose metabolism in humans at the level of exposure of phthalate metabolites seen in the general elderly population.”

Phthalates are found almost everywhere—in many personal care products, in plastics (and in foods contained by plastics, especially fatty foods), building materials, packaging, and more. Eliminating exposure to phthalates is impossible, but you may be able to reduce exposure by replacing some of the phthalate-containing products you use. For example, switch from plastic to glass storage containers. Buy PVC-free shower curtains. When possible, purchase fat-containing foods in non-plastic containers. And of course, support your body’s detoxification processes with regular cleansing. Be sure your bowel elimination is regular and support the function of your seven channels of elimination: colon, liver, lungs, lymph, kidneys, skin, and blood.

Trans Fats Linked to Aggression—Lower DHA to Blame?

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 06/25/2012


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! 

Trans-fats are essentially unsaturated oils that have been hydrogenated so that the oil becomes solid and more stable at room temperature. Many margarines, shortenings, and processed foods are high in trans-fats. Most people know that trans-fats are unhealthy. In fact, you can now find trans-fats on the Nutrition Facts Panels of packaged foods. Keep in mind, products which contain less than 0.5 grams of trans-fats can be labeled as trans-fat free. The best way to detect them is by looking at the ingredient panel. If you see the word hydrogenated, the product contains trans-fats.

A recent study involving over 1,000 people and published in the PLoS One journal has linked the consumption of trans-fats with aggression. Interestingly, trans-fats interfere with the production of the omega-3 fatty acid DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), a fat that has been associated with protection against aggressive behavior. The researchers suggest the reduction of DHA by trans-fats as a possible mechanism for the increased aggression seen in those people who consume the most trans-fats.

Other possible explanations include oxidative stress, inflammatory effects, or cell energy alterations caused by trans-fats, all linked to aggressive behavior. “We found that greater trans fatty acids were significantly associated with greater aggression, and were more consistently predictive of aggression and irritability, across the measures tested, than the other known aggression predictors that were assessed,” stated Beatrice Golomb, an author of the study.

This week, read the ingredient lists of the packaged foods you eat. If they contain partially hydrogenated oils, steer clear. This is one fat you want to completely eliminate from your diet.

US Adolescents at Risk for Heart Disease

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 06/22/2012


 

The obesity rate in the United States has been steadily rising for decades. (Check out this link for an eye opener—scroll down right away so you can see the US map of obesity change right before your eyes.) Well, the obesity rate in children is also at an all-time high. In 2009 to 2010, about 34 percent of US adolescents aged 12 to 19 years were overweight or obese. And being overweight or obese puts adolescents at increased risk for later development of heart disease. This is a considerable healthcare concern as our children age.

A recent study published in the journal Pediatrics, researchers looked at 3,383 adolescents and found that 61 percent of obese adolescents and 49 percent of overweight adolescents had one or more risk factors for cardiovascular disease (high blood pressure or pre-high blood pressure, borderline or high LDL cholesterol, low HDL cholesterol, or pre-diabetes or diabetes), when compared to 37 percent of normal weight adolescents.

As you can see, although the obese and overweight adolescents had higher risk, the normal weight adolescents were not entirely in the clear at 37 percent. Due to the metabolic imbalances seen in these children, they may be categorized as skinny–fat—they appear to be normal weight, but may have underlying metabolic dysfunction that can put them at risk for heart disease. This is also seen in adults, and often goes undetected.

Major dietary and lifestyle changes are needed in this country, and indeed throughout most of the world, so that we can prevent and even reverse cardiovascular disease, the number one killer in the United States. Our children’s lives depend on it.

The Human Microbiome Project

Filed in General | Posted by lsmith on 06/20/2012


The Human Microbiome Project is a five-year research collaboration between 200 scientists at 80 universities and scientific institutions, all funded with $153 million by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) with the aim of, “characterizing the microbial communities found at several different sites on the human body, including nasal passages, oral cavities, skin, gastrointestinal tract, and urogenital tract, and to analyze the role of these microbes in human health and disease.”

The project began in 2007 and has just been “completed,” with the publication of 14 scientific papers in medical journals this past week. By completed, I mean that the discoveries made by this group, although immense in scope due to the amount of data garnered, only begin to scratch the surface of what we know about the human microbiome and how it functions in relation to health and disease.

The findings of this latest research, which I will begin to summarize here, set the foundation for what will be a fascinating quest, through research and yet more discovery, of the depths of complexity that is our microbiome. As Dr. Barnett Kramer, director of the division of cancer prevention at the National Cancer Institute stated, “we may just serve as packaging” for our microbiome. Our microbes are truly in control.

The Human Microbiome Project sampled up to 18 different body sites from five different areas of the body—airways, skin, oral cavity, digestive tract, and vagina—in 242 healthy humans aged 18 to 40 years.1 Traditionally, microbes have been identified using culture-based methods, a process that requires organisms to remain alive in the laboratory, thus greatly limiting the wide range of microbial species identified. Instead, the researchers utilized relatively new DNA sequencing techniques to identify the full array of bacteria present. They say they have identified between 81 and 99 percent of all microbial genera in healthy Western adults.

The microbial communities were found to be remarkably diverse. Not only did the diversity differ substantially from body site to body site, it also differed greatly from person to person. The greatest similarities between people were seen in those with similar ethnic/racial backgrounds, and, interestingly, in the saliva of people living in the same communities.2 Also, the greatest diversity was found in the oral cavity, and the least diversity was found in the vagina (thought to be due to the tight regulation of vaginal conditions required for health).

Not only did the researchers study microbial composition, but they also examined functional status of the microbes based on the protein coding of the microbial DNA. As it turns out, our bacteria contribute far more genes responsible for human survival than do our own DNA—360 times more, to be exact. “Humans don’t have all the enzymes we need to digest our own diet,” said Lita Proctor, PhD, Human Microbiome Project program manager at the National Human Genome Research Institute. “Microbes in the gut break down many of the proteins, lipids, and carbohydrates in our diet into nutrients that we can then absorb. Moreover, the microbes produce beneficial compounds, like vitamins and anti-inflammatories that our genome cannot produce.”

As it turns out, the greatest similarities were found regarding these functions of the microbes. That is, certain functions are always needed in certain areas of the body, like carbohydrate digestion in the gut, but different microbes can perform these same functions. “It appears that bacteria can pinch hit for each other,” said Curtis Huttenhower, Ph.D., of Harvard School of Public Health and lead co-author for one of the papers in the journal Nature. “It matters whether the metabolic function is present, not which microbial species provides it.”

The studies also looked at certain conditions under which microbial communities change, such as after antibiotic therapy, just before birth, or in children with fevers. These initial studies are only the beginning. “Enabling disease-specific studies is the whole point of the Human Microbiome Project,” said Barbara Methé, PhD, of the J Craig Venter Institute, Rockville, MD, and lead co-author of the Nature paper on the framework for current and future human microbiome research. “Now that we understand what the normal human microbiome looks like, we should be able to understand how changes in the microbiome are associated with, or even cause, illnesses.”

Kudos to these tenacious scientists for their groundbreaking work that will serve as a stepping stone to the discovery of a whole new universe—the microbiome: changing the face of medicine as we know it. I look forward to the ride.

References

  1. The Human Microbiome Consortium, “Structure, function and diversity of the healthy human microbiome.” Nature. 2012 June 14;486:207–214.
  2. K Li, et al., “Analyses of the Microbial Diversity across the Human Microbiome.” PLoS One. 2012 June;7(6):e32118.

Low Fiber, High Belly Fat

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 06/18/2012


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! 

I talk about fiber a lot because of its many health benefits, and because of its lack in the Standard American Diet (SAD). I, in addition to many other health experts, recommend the consumption of at least 35 grams of fiber daily, yet the average American intake is only between 10 to 15 grams—not even half the recommended amount. I’ve blogged about the value of fiber in teens’ diets before.

A recent study published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism involving over 550 adolescents ages 14 to 18 found that the adolescents only consumed an average of 33 percent of the recommend amount of daily fiber. Those with the lowest fiber intakes had the highest amount of belly fat, or visceral adipose tissue (also known as VAT, the worst kind of fat), and the highest levels of chronic inflammation. Belly fat is considered an organ of its own, in part because it produces inflammatory chemicals and hormones, so it’s no wonder they found increased inflammation with increased belly fat. The two go hand in hand.

Is it any wonder the rate of diabetes or prediabetes in teens has increased from 9 percent in 1999 to 23 percent in 2008? Something needs to be done. This week, if you know a teen, talk to them about the importance of eating plenty of fiber. And emphasize that fiber comes from fruits and vegetables! Find out how to work more fruits and vegetables into their diet, and take a fiber supplement if they find it difficult to reach 35 grams of fiber daily.

High Fiber Diet Reduces Risk of Death

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 06/15/2012


One of the best ways to know a food, supplement, or even a drug, for that matter, is effective is to measure its ability to reduce the risk of death in the long run. After all, we strive to maintain our health so that we may live long, full lives, right? Well, a recent study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition included 452,717 participants (average age 50 years) and followed them for almost 13 years. Diet, physical activity, and other lifestyle factors were analyzed.

Those participants with the highest fiber intake (28.5 grams or more per day) had a 24 percent lower risk of death from any cause when compared to those with the lowest fiber intake (below 16.4 grams daily). Keep in mind, the daily average fiber intake in the United States is 10 to 15 grams. You can see we have a problem right? The researchers found a protective effect from fiber for a range of conditions related to the deaths—smoking-related cancers and circulatory, respiratory, digestive, and inflammatory diseases.

What does this tell you? Eat more fiber! I recommend 35 grams daily. Try to get a much fiber as you can from vegetables and fruits (and not just processed grains). Even with the healthiest diet, it can be difficult to eat 35 grams daily, so add a fiber supplement if you are having trouble reaching that goal.

DHA Linked to ADHD Improvements

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 06/13/2012


ADHD, or attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, is the most common neurobehavioral disorder in children. It is believed to affect up to 1 in 20 children in the United States. A recent study published in the journal Nutrition found that in children supplemented with omega-3 EPA and DHA, those with the highest levels of DHA detected in red blood cell membrane tests (which most accurately reflect tissue levels of omega-3s) experienced improvements in attention, literacy, and behavior.

This study identified a specific groups of ADHD children who may most benefit from omega-3 DHA—those children who also have reading and spelling difficulties. Ninety children between ages 9 and 12 were randomized into three groups: One group received 1,109 mg EPA + 108 mg DHA per day, another group received 264 mg EPA + 1,032 mg DHA per day, and the third group received a placebo. Although there was not a significant difference between groups, those children who had the highest levels of DHA in red blood cell membranes experienced the improvements in attention, literacy, and behavior. The authors also noted that increased levels of EPA were associated with improvements in anxiety and shyness, suggesting the two omega-3s have differing benefits.

The researchers concluded, “Given the low omega-3 PUFA intakes in Western populations generally, the variation in the diagnostic criteria between the studies to date, and the recent evidence that DHA supplementation can improve sustained attention and frontal lobe function in healthy boys, future research should explore the benefits of omega-3 PUFA supplementation for children who have developmentally delayed school performance but not necessarily a clinically diagnosed developmental disorder.”

I have blogged on the link between ADHD and toxin exposure before. This condition affects so many children and it seems to be increasing. The omega-3 fatty acid DHA is very important in the brain development of infants, so it doesn’t surprise me that it helps improve ADHD and related symptoms. Diet is an important factor to any condition, and we know that the Standard American Diet (SAD) is highly deficient in the essential omega-3s.

Parents: Eat Healthy and So Will Your Kids

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 06/11/2012


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! 

As parents, when it comes to teaching our children healthy eating habits, it’s important to look at our own eating habits first. The old adage, “Do as I say not as I do,” doesn’t quite add up when we’re teaching our children what to eat. A recent study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition backs this up. The lead researcher, Sharon Hoerr, MSU professor of food science and human nutrition, stated that restricting certain foods from children, and then eating those same foods in front of the children, can lead to unhealthy eating habits.

“Mothers should stop forcing or restricting their kids’ eating. They’d be better off providing a healthy food environment, adopting balanced eating habits themselves, and covertly controlling their children’s diet quality by not bringing less healthy foods into the house.”

This week, think of ways to help instill a love of—or perhaps less of an aversion to—healthy foods in your children. To help encourage healthy eating habits, take your children grocery shopping and ask them to help you find healthy foods. Plant a vegetable garden with them if you can. Let them help you cook healthy meals as a way to connect them to the foods they eat. Talk about what nutrients are found in the foods and how those nutrients help our body’s function well. Plant these seeds early in the hopes that they will develop strong roots as your children grow up to make choices on their own.

Sneak Preview – One Day Only!

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 06/08/2012


I’m excited to announce that I’m returning to PBS in late 2012 with my new program, Heart of Perfect Health. But if you live in the Baltimore/D.C. area, here’s your chance to get a sneak peak of my new show before anyone else.

Please join me for a special airing on Maryland Public Television on Sunday, June 10th, from 6 – 8 p.m. EST, as I discuss the connection between digestive health and heart health, while including easy, simple ways to protect and strengthen the heart by balancing the gut and achieving healthy digestion.

In Heart of Perfect Health, I will share the latest information on the impact of inflammation on heart health through an in-depth analysis of three common health measures—cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar—and their role as risk factors for heart disease. I will also provide ways to help combat abnormalities in these measures through digestive health.

If you are one of the lucky few who live in the viewing area, then please tune in to hear this life-saving information. You’ll also have the ability to pledge a donation to receive my latest book, also called the Heart of Perfect Health, which contains over 400 jam-packed pages on how to take control of your heart health, interviews with prominent medical doctors on the true causes of heart disease and how to prevent and even reverse it and 30 delicious heart-healthy recipes.

For those who do not live in Baltimore/D.C., stay tuned for more emails as the PBS program begins airing nationwide in November/December.