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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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Antibacterial Ingredients and Allergies

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 07/30/2012


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! 

Germs are a big concern for many people. Hand wipes and antibacterial soaps are commonly found in hand bags and on sinks as we scrub and wipe at the sign of any possible contamination. The fear that a pathogenic organism might infect us has created multi-billion dollar industries specializing in antibacterial ingredients that are added to every day soaps and personal care products.

But did you know that washing your hands thoroughly for at least 15 seconds with warm soapy water is as effective as using antibacterial soap? And did you know that antibacterial soap may be contributing to the increase in antibacterial resistance and has been linked to the development of allergies? The antibacterial ingredient in soap—triclosan—was recently studied along with other chemicals commonly found in personal care products.

In the study, published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, urine levels of seven endocrine disrupting chemicals (chemicals known to interfere with normal hormone function) were analyzed from 860 children aged 6 to 8. Levels of these chemicals were compared to blood levels of the antibody immunoglobulin E (IgE), a common immune marker for allergies. The researchers found that those children who had the highest amounts of triclosan (a chemical also found in mouthwash and toothpaste) also had the highest IgE levels. In addition, those children with the highest levels of antibacterial parabens—propyl-paraben and butyl-paraben—had the highest levels of IgE antibodies to environmental allergens like pollen and pet dander.

Interestingly, the three chemicals found associated to allergy response all have antibacterial qualities. Senior researcher Corinne Keet from Johns Hopkins Children’s Center stated, “This finding highlights the antimicrobial properties of these agents as a probable driving force behind their effect on the immune system.” A couple years ago, Dr. Smith blogged about the link between triclosan and allergy development. This study takes the results even further by linking urine levels of these chemicals to allergy development.

This week, begin to read the labels of your products. If your hand soap, mouthwash, or toothpaste are “antibacterial” find out if they contain triclosan, or propyl- or butyl-paraben. If so, it’s time to switch. Let’s get these chemicals out of our homes, out of our bodies, and out of the environment.

Toxins and Metabolic Syndrome

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 07/27/2012


The link between toxins and poor health is not very well understood. We know there is a link, but we are only scratching the surface of knowledge about the harmful effects of these toxins and just how they exert damage. In my new book, Heart of Perfect Health, I devoted a chapter to this topic, though it could easily be its own book.

Persistent organic pollutants (POPs), according to the Environmental Protection Agency, are toxic chemicals that adversely affect human health and the environment around the world. They can be transported by wind and water, so POPs generated in one country can affect distant locations across the world. In 2001, the United States along with 90 other countries signed a United Nations treaty—the Stockholm Convention—under which they agreed to reduce or eliminate the production, use, or release of 12 major POPs. Dioxins, DDT, and PCBs were among these.

Due to their persistent nature, however, these toxins are still found throughout the world. POPs are stored in fat and may be ingested in animal-based fatty foods. One researcher from the University of Bergen in Norway, Jerome Ruzzin, has been studying the effects of POPs for several years.

Ruzzin cautions against the long-term health effects of POPs, “A great number of studies are now showing that people with high concentrations of POPs in their body are developing metabolic syndrome. We are talking about normal people who live in normal environments. So this means that we are being exposed to far too high levels of POPs that may have a major impact on our health.”

He believes that current limits for these pollutants are too high, and recommends more regulation of these chemicals. “Food producers need to eliminate hazardous substances to a far greater extent than they do at present, and we consumers need more information about the kinds of chemicals we could be ingesting with their food products.”

If you carry excess fat, you may be storing these toxins. Losing weight will help to eliminate them, but realize that you must first mobilize the toxins from fat so that they may be released. This also means your levels of circulating toxins will go up as you lose weight so be sure to support the channels of elimination while you are losing weight. Also be sure your bowel elimination is regular; eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, take a fiber supplement to ensure you consume 35 grams of fiber daily, limit animal fats, and support your liver function with a liver detox or liver support supplement.

Antibiotics and Asthma and Gut Microbes, Oh My

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 07/25/2012


One of the most interesting aspects of the gut connection is the ability of the gut microbes, or gut microflora, to affect areas of the body seemingly far removed from the gut. It can be difficult to imagine that what happens in your gut affects what happens in, say, your brain or your lungs, but it does! Truly, optimal gut health is the foundation upon which total-body health is built.

A study published back in March in the journal EMBO Reports highlight this gut connection. Researchers tested the effects of two antibiotics—vancomycin and streptomycin—on the development of experimental asthma in an animal model. The study found that newborn mice receiving the antibiotic vancomycin, a commonly used antibiotic that targets bacteria in the intestines, experienced the greatest alteration in gut bacteria and were subsequently found to be more susceptible to allergic asthma than those receiving the antibiotic streptomycin, which is used to treat systemic infections like tuberculosis and endocarditis.

This study was based on previous observational studies that have found a link between the development of asthma and antibiotic use during infancy or birth by cesarean section, both associated with alterations of the gut microflora. The researchers found profoundly altered bacterial composition in the vancomycin treated mice, as well as a strikingly reduced number of important immune regulating cells known as T-regulatory cells. This all set the stage for the allergic asthma response.

Lead researcher Brett Finlay from the University of British Columbia stated, “The message it drives home is the whole idea that you do need your microbiota to develop normally. We really do need these bugs.” Hisgroup is currently looking at a similar effect as part of a national study of 5,000 children with asthma in Canada. About antibiotics Findlay says, “They don’t just magically kill one bug, they’re wiping out billions upon billions of other bacteria.”

Antibiotics are definitely necessary for certain conditions, but they are also one of the most widely over-prescribed medications. The health implications of this overuse are only now beginning to be realized. Development of a healthy gut bacterial balance from an early age is an important part of building healthy immune response.

Fat Is Not the Enemy—It’s a Nutrient

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 07/23/2012


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 low-fat diet craze has been popular since the ‘70s when scientists linked a diet high in saturated fat to raised cholesterol levels, and a low-saturated fat diet was found to be protective against heart disease. Somehow, because of the unhealthy qualities of this one type of fat, the entire fat category got a bad rap. Thus began the low-fat diet craze (which actually became the low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet craze that continues to contribute to the highest rates of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease we have ever seen—interesting paradox, no?) .

The truth is we need fat. It’s one of the three main macronutrients—fat, carbohydrates, and protein—that provides fuel for our body and keeps us running. Every cell in the body is enclosed in a membrane made up of fats. Without fat, our cells cannot run efficiently. But certain fats are better than others, as scientists learned in the early studies investigating fat and heart disease.

The one fat you want to completely eliminate from your diet is processed trans-fat. The trans-fat found in hydrogenated oils (common in processed foods) has been linked to a number of health conditions. It’s best to cut this one out completely. The fat you want to greatly reduce is saturated fat. Although a natural fat, its saturated nature means that it is a stiff molecule, and stiff fats make for stiff cell membranes. This reduces the ability of the cell to maintain fluidity—an important characteristic of a healthy cell.

You don’t have to eliminate saturated fats, but be sure to eat them in moderation. Even better, obtain your saturated fats from coconut oil, a medium chain saturated fat considered a healthy saturated fat due to its shorter chain length and rapid metabolism.

The fats you do need to eat—probably more than you already do—are monounsaturated fats (found in olive oil) and the omega-3 fats (found in fish oil, flaxseed, chia seed, and walnuts). These fats are unsaturated, and contribute to the fluidity of cell membranes, as well as to the regulation of inflammatory response—all health-promoting actions.

A recent study published in the journal Molecular Nutrition & Food Research highlighted the importance of eating fats along with vegetables. The researchers found that the carotenoid nutrients (beta carotene is a carotenoid) found in salads were best absorbed when eaten in combination with monounsaturated fats as opposed to saturated or even polyunsaturated fats. If you have been passing on salad dressing because you want to cut down on fat, you’re better off adding fat—use a vinaigrette made with olive oil. This week, add some extra virgin olive oil to your veggies and remember that fat is a nutrient—not the enemy. Just choose the right fats.

Omega-3s and Inflammation

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 07/20/2012


One of the most important benefits of omega-3 fatty acids is their anti-inflammatory effects. Inflammation is an underlying feature of most, if not all, chronic disease. But what is inflammation? Most people think of pain, swelling, and redness when they think of inflammation. These are the hallmark features of acute inflammation, like when you cut yourself. But the inflammation that leads to chronic disease is a chronic, low-grade inflammation often referred to as silent inflammation because you can’t feel it.

The omega-3s that come from fish oil—EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid)—are particularly good at reducing this silent inflammation. One way in which they reduce inflammation is by balancing out the inflammatory effects of the omega-6 fats found in high amounts in the Standard American Diet (SAD). The ideal ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats in the diet is anywhere from 1:1 to 4:1. But the SAD diet’s ratio is more like 10:1 to 25:1. That’s way more omega-6 than we should be eating.

Improving this omega-6 to omega-3 ratio by consuming more omega-3s is a great way to balance inflammatory response. A recent study published in the journal Brain, Behavior and Immunity found that omega-3 fish oil supplements lower inflammation in healthy, yet overweight, adults. Participants took either 1.25 grams (1,250 mg) or 2.5 grams (2,500 mg) daily of an omega-3 supplement, or a placebo pill filled with fats typically found in the Standard American Diet for four months.

The low dose group saw a ten percent decrease in blood levels of the inflammatory cytokine interleukin-6 (IL-6), while the high dose group saw a decrease of 12 percent. Those taking the placebo saw a 36 percent increase. Levels of another marker of inflammation, tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-alpha) were also modestly lowered in the omega-3 group compared to placebo.

Co-author Ron Glaser stated, “You need this good inflammation for an initial response, but if it stays up, and inflammation becomes chronic, then you’ve got a problem. Our research and studies done by others have shown that these two cytokines are clearly related to overall health—and when they’re elevated in the blood that is not good for overall health. So the more ways we can find to lower them, the better.”

If you tend to carry a few extra pounds, yet don’t have any other markers of heart disease or diabetes, such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or high blood sugar, it’s important that you realize you may still have silent inflammation. Inflammation can come from a number of sources, belly fat being just one. The gut is another important source. Get to the bottom of your inflammation, and quell it with omega-3s and healthy digestion.

Omega-6 to Omega-3 Ratio of Breast Milk

Filed in General | Posted by lsmith on 07/18/2012


Infant growth and development begins in the womb and continues at a rapid pace during the first months and years of life. Breastfeeding provides optimal nutrition for this development, especially when the mother’s nutrition itself is optimal. The fat content of breast milk is of great importance to infant development—especially when it comes to the omega-3 fatty acid DHA, and the omega-6 fatty acid metabolite arachadonic acid (AA) which are both concentrated in the infant brain during the last trimester and first few months of life.1

The main polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) found in breast milk are AA and its precursor, linolenic acid (LA), the parent essential omega-6 fatty acid. DHA is found in lower concentrations, but is considered to be a particularly important component of breast milk. The fat content of breast milk varies greatly, however, depending on the diet of the mother. There is considerable debate as to what fatty acid compositions are considered optimal.

In women consuming a Westernized, Standard American Diet (SAD), dietary intake of DHA, and levels of DHA in breast milk, are lower than in mothers eating traditional, hunter-gatherer diets. The omega-6 to omega-3 ratio of the SAD diet is between 10:1 to 25:12,3 (that’s 10 to 25 times more omega-6 than omega-3), whereas the ratio of a hunter-gatherer diet it more like 1:1 to 2:1.4 It can be difficult to achieve hunter-gatherer omega-6/omega-3 status, however, so many experts agree that anywhere from 1:1 to 4:1 is optimal.

In a recent study published in the journal Maternal & Child Nutrition, researchers stated, “Currently, infant formulas are modeled on breast milk compositions of US women, despite high inter-population variability in milk PUFA composition, and the high [omega-6]/low omega-3 PUFA in US milks. It has been suggested, therefore, that standards for formula and milk fatty acid composition should derive from populations consuming non-industrialized diets.”

The researchers evaluated the fatty acid content of breast milk in mothers from Ohio consuming a typical SAD diet, and compared it to that of indigenous Tsimane mothers from the Amazon rainforest in Bolivia consuming a diet that more closely resembles human ancestors—that is, they live off the land.5

“The Tsimane mothers’ average milk DHA percentage was 400 percent higher than that of the Cincinnati mothers, while their average percentages of linoleic and trans fatty acids were 84 percent and 260 percent lower, respectively,” stated Melanie Martin, the lead researcher. “Despite living in economically impoverished conditions, Tsimane mothers produce breast milk that has more balanced and potentially beneficial fatty acid composition as compared to milk from U.S. mothers.”

High amounts of DHA in breast milk mean that the mother herself has high amounts of DHA in her body, which is stored there after eating DHA-containing omega-3s. As it turns out, DHA is beneficial for both mother and babe. Lower DHA content in breast milk and lower seafood consumption have been linked to higher rates of postpartum depression.6 In addition, maternal supplementation with DHA and EPA (the other main omega-3 fatty acid found in fish oil) during pregnancy and breastfeeding has been associated with higher IQ in the children at four years of age.1 And high amounts of DHA in breast milk have also been associated with improved vision in infants.7 These benefits make perfect sense because DHA is found in highest concentration in the brain and retina of the eye.

Since the SAD diet is so far off the ideal omega-6 to omega-3 ratio, most, if not all, people would do well to supplement with omega-3 fish oil—especially DHA during pregnancy and lactation. Optimizing the omega-6 to omega-3 ratio is possibly the single most important thing people can do to support overall health.

References

  1. I.B. Helland, et al., “Maternal supplementation      with very-long-chain n-3 fatty acids during pregnancy and lactation      augments children’s IQ at 4 years of age.” Pediatrics. 2003 Jan;111(1):e39-44.
  2. P.M. Kris-Etherton, et al., “Polyunsaturated      fatty acids in the food chain in the United States.” Am J Clin Nutr. 2000      Jan;71(1 Suppl):179S–88S.
  3. A.P. Simopoulos, “Omega-3 fatty acids in health      and disease and in growth and development.” Am J Clin Nutr. 1991      Sep;54(3):438–63.
  4. A.P. Simopoulos, “The importance of the ratio of      omega-6/omega-3 essential fatty acids.” Biomed Pharmacother. 2002      Oct;56(8):365–79.
  5. M.A. Martin, et al., “Fatty acid composition in      the mature milk of Bolivian forager-horticulturalists: controlled      comparisons with a US sample.” Matern      Child Nutr. 2012 Jul;8(3):404-418.
  6. J.R. Hibeln, et al., “Seafood consumption, the      DHA content of mothers’ milk and prevalence rates of postpartum      depression: a cross-national, ecological analysis.” J Affect Disord. 2002 May;69(1-3):15-29.
  7. M.H. Jorgensen, et al., “Is there a relation      between docosahexaenoic acid concentration in mothers’ milk and visual      development in term infants?” J      Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr. 2001 Mar;32(3):293-6.

Hidden Chemicals

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 07/17/2012


A recent report published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives (EHP) has uncovered the truth about hidden chemicals in everyday personal care and cleaning products, even those products claimed to be “natural.” An array of chemicals has been found in our homes and in our bodies yet little is known about the safety of these chemicals or even where they are all coming from.

The ability to detect most of these chemicals in everyday products becomes complicated by the minimal labeling required on personal care and cleaning products. For example, for cosmetics the FDA does not require labeling of chemical constituents of fragrances or “incidental ingredients,” (I’d like to see the definition of that) and for cleaning products only compounds regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (like antimicrobials) are required to be labeled.

In the EHP study, the researchers selected 213 commercial products representing 50 product types. They detected 55 chemical compounds including complex mixtures of chemicals in some products. The alarming part of their research is that they even detected many chemicals in the “alternative” products they selected. Here is where labeling again comes under scrutiny—“natural,” “nontoxic,” and “green” are unregulated terms that require no standard ingredient information.

Parabens, known endocrine disruptors commonly found in personal care products, were not only found in conventional products but were also found in seven products that did not list parabens as ingredients. Phthalates, endocrine disrupting plasticizers and solvents, were found in conventional products and alternative products, with new substitute phthalates detected in the alternative products. (They are still phthalates and they likely have similar effects as the old phthalates.)

BPA was found in many of the conventional products and was only found in the alternative sunscreen. I suppose that would be the good news. Here is one chemical you can avoid by selecting alternative products—unless you choose that sunscreen. (The report didn’t give any brand names, unfortunately.)

Antimicrobial compounds were the one chemical that were most likely to be found on labels. This is because they are regulated by the FDA. My question is when will the FDA regulate the rest of these chemicals?

They tested more chemicals but these were the most common ones. The bottom line is we still have a way to go before we can completely trust these products. Because the labeling requirements are shady, we really don’t know what we’re getting. Sunscreens, shaving cream, and some cleaning products seemed to have the most undisclosed chemical ingredients. In the meantime, it’s best to be minimalist. Make your own cleaning products from scratch when you can (you can find some recipes in my book The Detox Strategy), and do your research when it comes to personal care products.

Dirty Dozen Plus from Environmental Working Group

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 07/16/2012


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 Environmental Working Group is at it again. This group is at the forefront of building consumer awareness about toxins in food and everyday products. They are famous for their Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen lists of the most and least pesticide laden produce. This year they have added green beans and leafy vegetables to the Dirty Dozen list (now Dirty Dozen Plus) because these two are commonly contaminated with organophosphate insecticides. Check out the new lists here.

This week, if any of the fruits or vegetables from the Dirty Dozen list are part of your diet, choose organic whenever you can. The widespread harmful effects of chemical pesticides to our bodies and the environment have only begun to be discovered. And what we know about them doesn’t look good. The more we buy foods grown with organic ingredients, the more organic ingredients will become available. Make the switch.

Low Vitamin D? Expect Weight Gain

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 07/13/2012


Vitamin D has received a lot of attention over the last few years, and for good reason. The negative health effects that have been associated with low vitamin D levels make up a long list, indeed. Dr. Smith wrote a great blog on vitamin D a couple winters ago with an overview on the best ways to raise vitamin D levels.

A recent study published in the Journal of Women’s Health found that women with low levels of vitamin D (less than 30 ng/mL) gained more weight over the course of five years than those women who had higher levels of vitamin D, suggesting that vitamin D has protective effects against weight gain.

Interestingly, 78 percent of the women in the study had insufficient vitamin D levels. One of the study’s authors, Erin LeBlanc, MD, stated, “A primary source of this important vitamin is sunlight, and as modern societies move indoors, continuous vitamin D insufficiency may be contributing to chronic weight gain.”

While the researchers say more studies are needed to ascertain whether vitamin D supplementation will prevent weight gain, there are many more reasons than possible weight gain to increase your vitamin D levels. If you have not had your levels checked, be sure to do so. Many experts recommend an optimal level of at least 50 ng/mL.

Vitamin D supplements are relatively inexpensive. You may even find it added to another supplement, like omega-3 fish oil. (These two make a nice pair, as vitamin D is also fat soluble.) Be sure to look for vitamin D3 (not D2), because it is the most bioavailable form.

Green Coffee Bean—Not Your Morning Cup of Joe

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 07/11/2012


Weight loss is one of the biggest concerns of, well, most of us. With over two-thirds of people in the United States overweight and one-third obese, weight loss is a big issue. I have always said that diet is the main factor of addressing any health issue, and weight loss is certainly included. I have also said that a healthy gut is the foundation upon which total body health is built, so gut function must be optimized before true weight control can be attained—and maintained!

Once diet and digestion are addressed, sometimes we still need a bit of a boost when it comes to weight loss, especially at the beginning. One ingredient that has received a lot of attention for weight loss support is green coffee bean. Even Dr. Oz has sung its praises. The weight loss benefits of green coffee bean extract are attributed to the chlorogenic acid contained in the bean, which is broken down when the beans are roasted. (So you won’t lose weight just by drinking coffee—sorry.)

A study back in March added to the scientific support behind green coffee bean extract. In the study, obese or overweight individuals aged 22–26 years took 700 mg or 1,050 mg of the extract daily for 22 weeks. These dosages are higher than those of other studies on the extract, but researchers wanted to see if higher dosage improved results.

The participants’ diet and exercise regimens were carefully monitored and did not differ over the course of the study. Participants lost 17 pounds and saw a 16 percent decrease in body fat over the course of the study. Further studies will be needed to confirm the results in a larger group, but these results are certainly promising. Look for green coffee bean extract (or decaffeinated coffee bean extract) if you are looking for a jump start to your diet.