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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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      Our dog’s health is precious! They provide us with unconditional love and companionship. A daily probiotic formula is a great way to ensure good health. Make sure you choose one that delivers the recommended potency level and strain count. There is nothing quite like a healthy and happy dog. Happy Dog. Happy Life!

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My Review Of The Wheat Belly Cookbook

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 01/31/2013


I was honored to interview Dr. William Davis for my newest book, Heart of Perfect Health last year. You may have heard of him, as he’s been featured on television programs from CBS This Morning to The Dr. Oz Show .  Dr. Davis is a preventive cardiologist and author of Wheat Belly: Lose the Weight and Find Your Path Back to Health. Since that interview, he has published a companion book which I’d like to strongly recommend you purchase called Wheat Belly Cookbook.

In case you’ve not heard, Dr. Davis’ message is very clear and I quote “Wheat is not the ‘healthy whole grain’ it was pretending to be…..Modern health care, treating millions of people at the cost of hundreds of billions of dollars every year for hypertension, high cholesterol, obesity, arthritis, acid reflux, irritable bowel syndrome, fibromyalgia, migraine headaches, depression, diabetes, various forms of neurological impairment, and on and on, is really treating….wheat consumption.”

Yes, Dr. Davis clearly demonstrates through research, physiology and years of patient testimonials, that wheat is a major contributor to the sad epidemic of obesity and chronic disease that surrounds us every day. And he explains very clearly just how that came about. After our interview, I could think of little else for days!

Did you realize that 2 slices of whole wheat bread can raise blood sugar more than 2 tablespoons of sugar can? That’s the truth. The glycemic index of a Mars candy bar is less than that of whole wheat bread! And the all too common presentation of a “wheat belly” is that accumulation of deep visceral fat around the abdomen, sometimes called “love handles” or a “muffin top” or even the embarrassing appearance of pregnancy when there’s no baby in the oven (seen in men too!).

I’ve been teaching about gluten sensitivity for a long time, and gluten is a primary component of wheat. When I asked Dr. Davis about gluten he first made the point that gluten is only one of the components of wheat that can exert sometimes devastating health effects on humans. He stated “What I am advocating is not only gluten elimination for the gluten sensitive. I am advocating wheat elimination for everyone.” Now that’s a strong position, and one that I have also seen to be crucial once a person makes a serious commitment to restoring their health.

Wheat Belly Cookbook opens with this quote by Gloria Steinem: “The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.” Admit it—you’re not enjoying this conversation, even though down deep inside something tells you it may be time for a change. That’s why Dr. Davis’ newest book is for you.

For starters, he recaps the iron-clad research supporting his assertions with his wonderfully clear and amusing writing style. He then introduces you, step by step, to the new choices you can make in both the grocery store and the kitchen in order to successfully transition to a wheat-free lifestyle (even suggesting specific products). Upon entering the Recipe section, you’ll find dishes you love that are simple to create (even pizza!). I shared his Basic Biscuit recipe with you recently in my newsletter.

Today I thought you might enjoy his “Kid-Friendly” Chocolate Chip Cookies. Wheat Belly Cookbook offers so many easy, delicious heart healthy recipes that you’ll kick that old demon wheat to the curb! It’s really possible to feed yourself and your family and be both happy and healthy!

“Kid-Friendly” CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES

PREP TIME: 10 MINUTES / TOTAL TIME: 35 MINUTES

Makes 30 cookies

  • 4 cups almond meal/flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt
  • 4 eggs
  • ½ cup butter or coconut oil, melted
  • ½ cup sour cream or coconut milk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon liquid stevia
  • 10 ounces bittersweet or dark chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, whisk together the almond meal/flour, baking soda, and salt.

In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs, butter or coconut oil, sour cream or coconut milk, vanilla, and stevia. Stir into the flour mixture just until combined. Stir in the chips.

Drop by heaping tablespoons onto the baking sheet. Using a spoon or glass, press each cookies to ½” thickness.

Bake for 25 minutes, or until the edges are lightly browned. Remove to a rack to cool completely.

PER SERVING: 176 calories, 5 g protein, 8 g carbohydrates, 15 g total fat, 5 g saturated fat, 2 g fiber, 80 mg sodium – and 1.2 teaspoons of sugar per cookie (or considerably less), depending on the type of chocolate chips you include. Many more tips can be found within Wheat Belly Cookbook.

Vitamin D Helpful for Colds, or Not?

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 01/30/2013


 

Vitamin D is one of those nutrients that I highly recommend for just about everyone. Vitamin D levels are being found to be insufficient or deficient in people all over the world, including in the United States. By conventional medical standards, a vitamin D level (25-hydroxy vitamin D) of less than 12 ng/mL is considered deficient, and 20 ng/mL or higher is considered adequate. Many health experts disagree, however, stating that levels of at least 30 ng/mL (up to 50 ng/mL or more) are adequate for optimal health.

A number of studies have linked low vitamin D levels to increased risk of development of upper respiratory infections like cold and flu. A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that supplementation with high doses of vitamin D (200,000 iu once a month for two months followed by 100,000 iu per month for 16 months) was not protective against the development of upper respiratory infections. The headlines, as you can imagine, sound like, “Vitamin D No Match for Common Cold” and “Trying to Avoid a Cold? Skip the Vitamin D Supplements.”

Please, please—I urge you to not toss your vitamin D supplements because of the headlines you read about this study. What these misleading headlines don’t tell you is that the people in this study started out with vitamin D levels at 29 ng/mL—sufficient levels. You can see that the study was set up to fail from the start. What might the researchers have found if they started with people who had lower vitamin D levels, and thus, higher risk of upper respiratory infection? Perhaps they would have found what other studies that included participants who were deficient in vitamin D found—a reduction in upper respiratory infections.

In fact, a study published in the same journal found that patients with tuberculosis who were deficient in vitamin D experienced a decrease in upper respiratory infections with vitamin D supplementation over two months. Certainly, more studies are needed to clear up the confusion before people write off the immune health benefits of vitamin D, which have been extensively documented. Optimizing your vitamin D level should be a priority, no matter your health status. If you haven’t had your vitamin D level tested, it’s time you did. Ask your doctor about it, or request an at-home test on your own.

Successful Aging

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 01/28/2013


As we get older it seems that staying healthy gets much more difficult. It’s harder to maintain a healthy weight. All forms of exercise seem more troublesome than they once were. And new health conditions seem to appear as the years add up. With so many people chasing the fountain of youth, it’s a hot area for research too. There have been a couple recent studies on the subject of healthy aging that I wanted to share with you.

The first study was published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal and involved 5100 British men and women 42 to 63 years old who were followed for 16 years. At the end of the study the participants were split into groups. The “successful aging” group—those with no chronic diseases and able to function well with good mobility, cognitive skills, breathing function, and mental health—were found to also engage in four behaviors thought to be helpful in maintaining their health: not smoking, moderate alcohol consumption, exercise, and eating fruits and veggies daily. If you are not engaging in these four behaviors—start! (Although if you don’t drink alcohol at all, experts say don’t start, you’re better off.) 

Another recent study highlights the particular benefits of exercise on aging of the brain. In a study involving almost 700 people and published in the journal Neurology, people over 70 who also exercised were found to have less damaged areas of the brain related to memory and thinking. The researchers stated, “We already know that exercise is important in reducing our risk of some illnesses that come with aging, such as cardiovascular disease and cancer. This research reemphasizes that it really is never too late to benefit from exercise, so whether it’s a brisk walk to the shops, gardening, or competing in a fun run, it is crucial that, those of us who can, get active as we grow older.”

Take stock of your habits. Get rid of those habits that don’t contribute to your health, and adopt those that do. Begin with just one. (Exercise would be a good one, based on these studies and so many more I’ve seen.) Here’s to your healthy aging.

Multivitamins May Prevent Cancer in Men

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 01/25/2013


In general, I recommend that everyone take a multivitamin to be sure they are getting a balance of nutrients. Even the healthiest eaters can be lacking in certain nutrients so a multivitamin helps provide extra assurance. Multivitamins are the most commonly taken dietary supplement, with one-third of US adults taking a daily multivitamin.

Certain vitamins have endured their fair share of bad-mouthing, however, based on the results of large, well-publicized human clinical trials. Three such vitamins that come to mind include beta carotene and vitamins E and C. The Physician’s Health Study II, begun in 1997, sought to determine the long-term benefits of taking vitamins E and C (in one component of the study) or a multivitamin (in another component) on the prevention of major cardiovascular events, cancer, or eye disease. While vitamins E and C were not found to have preventive effects, a recent publication on the multivitamin component did find that intake of a multivitamin was protective against the development of cancer.

This high-profile trial provides some insight, if we step back and take a look at the larger picture. The trial involving only vitamins E and C did not find benefit, but the trial which utilized a balanced multivitamin did find benefit. This would seem to make sense given the many interactions vitamins have with each other and with the body. That a well-balanced intake of nutrients was found to reduce the risk of cancer is not surprising. Given the poor nutrient intake found in the Standard American Diet (SAD), especially when it comes to fruits and vegetables, adding a multivitamin is almost always a good idea, in my opinion.

The study involved over 14,000 male physicians aged 50 years or older. They took either a multivitamin or placebo for at least ten years. “Although the main reason to take multivitamins is to prevent nutritional deficiency, these data provide support for the potential use of multivitamin supplements in the prevention of cancer in middle-aged and older men,” stated the researchers.

I am glad to see the results of this large, long-term study. Studies that support multivitamin intake for disease prevention can be complicated and expensive. I know how hard it can be to eat a healthy diet every day, all day. And I know that many people are not getting the nutrients they need. This study will hopefully inspire more people to get the nutrients they need, but may not have known they needed.

The Gut-Brain, Gut-Immune Connection to Chronic Fatigue

Filed in General | Posted by lsmith on 01/23/2013


Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is a condition often considered difficult to understand. The main characteristic of CFS is persistent and relapsing fatigue, usually worsened by physical and mental exertion. It also involves neuropsychological symptoms including loss of memory or concentration, headaches, sleep disturbances, depression, and anxiety. Of these symptoms, depression and anxiety are the most common with about half of CFS patients meeting diagnostic criteria for an anxiety or major depressive disorder.

Another common condition found in people with CFS is irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) with over half of people with CFS meeting diagnostic criteria for IBS.1 The link between CFS and the gut could be considered a gut-brain/gut-immune connection. It is known that gut bacteria can actually communicate with the nervous system by way of the vagal nerves (which innervate the digestive tract), thus influencing mood. Brenda has blogged on this topic a few times. Gut bacteria also communicate with the immune system, up to 80 percent of which resides in the gut (in the gut-associated lymphoid tissue).

Lower levels of Bifidobacteria and higher levels of aerobic bacteria have been found in people with CFS.2 This finding prompted the study of probiotic supplementation on emotional symptoms in people with CFS. Twenty four patients consumed 8 billion CFUs of Lactobacillus casei strain Shirota or a placebo after each main meal, or three times daily. The probiotic was found to decrease anxiety symptoms and increase levels of both Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium when compared to people taking placebo.3

The researchers stated, “It can therefore be concluded that ingestion of the probiotic capsules contributed towards the predominance of bacteria that are associated with a healthy gastrointestinal system,” and, “The rise in Lactobacilli was an expected finding, although the concomitant rise in Bifidobacteria suggests that there may be far reaching effects of oral probiotics on other microbial residents of the gastrointestinal tract.”

The gut-immune connection is important here, since chronic, low-grade inflammation (also called silent inflammation) has been found in people with chronic fatigue syndrome, and the gut is a major source of this inflammation. The researchers recognize this, “Since orally administered probiotics can decrease inflammatory cytokines in humans, it has been postulated that bacteria may be used to positively influence mood in patient populations where both emotional symptoms and inflammatory immune chemicals are elevated. It is becoming increasingly clear that anxiety and stress itself may lower levels of fecal lactic acid bacteria, and this, in turn, may compromise various aspects of health.”

To interrupt the vicious cycle of gut dysbiosis > immune dysfunction > mood disturbances > gut dysbiosis, two important factors must be addressed: The gut must be balanced with proper consumption of probiotics, consumption of a plant-based diet (which strongly supports the growth of beneficial gut bacteria) and stress must be reduced. A balanced gut and proper stress management together can have many positive effects on your health. Consider how you can make changes in both these areas.

 

References

  1. W.E. Whitehead, et al., “Systematic review of the comorbidity of irritable bowel syndrome with other disorders: what are the causes and implications?” Gastroenterology. 2002 Apr;122(4):1140-56.
  2. A.C. Logan, et al., “Chronic fatigue syndrome: lactic acid bacteria may be of therapeutic value.” Med Hypotheses. 2003 Jun;60(6):915-23.
  3. A.V. Rao, et al., “A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled pilot study of a probiotic in emotional symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome.” Gut Pathog. 2009 Mar 19;1(1):6.

Gallstone Risk in Obese Children

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 01/21/2013


Childhood obesity is growing at epidemic rates. Over one-third of children and adolescents are overweight or obese. Unfortunately, the result of this epidemic is the appearance of health conditions in children that were previously only found in adults, conditions such as metabolic syndrome, high cholesterol, and, according to a recent study published in the Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology & Nutrition, gallstones.

The study examined health records of over 510,000 children aged 10 to 19, and found that obese children were twice as likely to have gallstones compared to children with normal BMI (body mass index), the standard measure of obesity. “Although gallstones are relatively common in obese adults, gallstones in children and adolescents have been historically rare,” noted lead researcher Corinna Koebnick, “These findings add to an alarming trend—youth who are obese or extremely obese are more likely to have diseases we normally think of as adult conditions.”

Gallstones are relatively common, affecting about 20 million adults. The condition is characterized by symptoms of abdominal pain (especially after a fatty meal), nausea, or—in many cases—a lack of symptoms. “Since obesity is so common, pediatricians must learn to recognize the characteristic symptoms of gallstones,” stated George Longstreth, another author of the study. Girls and Hispanics were found to be most at risk of gallstones, but all obese children were still at risk.

It saddens me that children today are afflicted with adult diseases as a result of their obesity. It saddens me that children are growing obese. The quality of food widely available today saddens me.  And the social norm of eating this junk food—and lots of it—saddens me. If you have a child in your life, share a healthy snack with her. And be sure to eat healthy snacks yourself because we model behavior for our children. As we make healthy choices, so will they. Pass it on.

Girls and Boys Entering Puberty Younger than Ever

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 01/18/2013


We’ve known for quite a while now that girls are beginning menstruation at a younger age than ever. I’ve blogged about the link between increased exposure to hormone-disrupting chemicals and decreased age of menstruation in girls before. It looks like girls are not alone.

In a recent study published in the journal Pediatrics, no less, researchers found that boys are entering puberty six months to two years earlier than they did only 30 to 40 years ago. This is the first study of its kind in boys in the United States, but studies in Denmark, Sweden, Great Britain, Italy, and China have found earlier puberty in boys. The researchers were not entirely surprised by the findings based on previous studies that found boys were growing taller at an earlier age. “They can’t do that without entering puberty,” stated Marcia Herman-Giddens, lead researcher.

The study included 4,100 boys, aged 6 to 16 in 41 different U.S. states. While the study did not investigate possible causes of early puberty, the researchers noted, “Current environmental factors, including exposure to chemicals, changes in diet, less physical activity, and other modern lifestyle changes and exposures may be related.”

Early puberty is particularly problematic when you consider that children’s brains are not maturing at an earlier age. The combination of a body ready to reproduce with a mind that is anything but can be a dangerous one. The environmental causes of early puberty need to be found and regulated. The huge amount of chemicals we—and our vulnerable children!—are exposed to daily is sickening, literally.

Probiotics + Prebiotics = Constipation Relief

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 01/16/2013


Probiotics are friendly bacteria that are beneficial to the person consuming them. Prebiotics are soluble fibers that increase the amount of beneficial bacteria in the gut. In essence, prebiotics act as food for the probiotics, helping to support their growth. Taking the two supplements together is often recommended as a way to optimize gut bacterial balance and improve digestive health.

One important way both pro- and prebiotics work is by improving bowel regularity. Constipation is defined as fewer than three bowel movements per week. That means mainstream medicine believes that pooping only three times a week is normal. I’m sorry folks, but that’s not normal. Myself, and many of my colleagues in the natural and integrative medicine field—define constipation as less than one healthy bowel movement per day. That’s right—if you don’t have a healthy-sized bowel movement daily, you are constipated.

A recent study published in the journal Clinical Nutrition found that taking the prebiotic FOS (fructooligosaccharides) with a multistrain probiotic formula containing Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium strains increased the frequency of bowel movements, and improved stool consistency and constipation intensity in chronically constipated women when compared to those women taking a placebo.

The study did not find an improvement in abdominal symptoms, and I wonder if it was because the probiotic dosage was very low—between 200 million and 2 billion cultures daily. Further, the formula included only one Bifidobacterium strain, an important strain in the colon, where constipation occurs. For constipation I recommend high dosages of a multistrain Bifidobacterium formula. At any rate, this study highlights the strong support for digestive benefits in people with constipation.

Tea Drinking Protects Against Digestive System Cancers

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 01/14/2013


Tea is the second-most widely consumed beverage worldwide, second only to water. There are four main types of tea—white, green, oolong, and black—all from the same plant, Camelia sinensis. White and green tea are not fermented and thought to contain the highest amount of antioxidants. Oolong tea is semi-fermented, and black tea is the most fermented of the four types.

Due to the high antioxidant content and widespread consumption of green tea, studies of its beneficial effects are numerous, and rightly so. Green tea may help prevent heart disease, helps to lower total cholesterol and raise HDL, or “good” cholesterol, has been found to help protect against an array of cancers, promotes weight loss, helps regulate blood sugar levels, and may help reduce inflammation in inflammatory bowel diseases. That’s an impressive list, if you ask me.

A recent study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that tea drinkers (of any tea, although 88% of the tea drinkers preferred green) had a 27 percent lower risk of developing stomach, esophagus, or colorectal cancers when compared to people who did not drink tea. The researchers studied over 69,000 non-smoking and non–alcohol-consuming women in China for an average of 12 years.

Of the regular tea drinkers—those who consumed tea three or more times a week for at least six months—risk of all digestive system cancers was reduced 17 percent compared to non-tea drinkers. “Our results suggest that tea drinking may be a potential way to reduce risk of digestive system cancers in non-smoking women and non–alcohol-drinking women.” 

Green tea is one of the best drinks you can consume. You can drink it hot or cold. Plain or with fruit or mint to give it a refreshing taste. If you tend to add sugar to your green tea, try to start weaning yourself off the unnecessary sweetness. Green tea is delicious on its own. When you give your taste buds a sugar break, you’ll begin to discover the true unmasked flavors of nutrient-rich foods are even more delicious without the sugar.

 

Probiotics Boost Gut Health in Athletes

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 01/11/2013


Gastrointestinal complaints such as nausea, cramps, vomiting, and diarrhea are common among athletes. This is thought to be due to the change in blood flow during intense exercise—blood is diverted from digestion to the heart and muscles where it is needed. The decrease in blood flow to the intestines during intense exercise is known to increase intestinal permeability, or leaky gut. This, in turn, can lead to increased susceptibility to infection or autoimmune disease.

A recent study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition tried to address this increased leaky gut by using a multi-strain probiotic formula in people undergoing intense exercise. Twenty-three trained men, average age 38 were given either 10 billion cultures of a six-strain probiotic formula (two Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus strains and one Enterococcus and Lactococcus strain) or placebo daily for 14 weeks.

The researchers tested levels of inflammation, protein oxidation, oxidative stress, and leaky gut. In those people taking the probiotic, they found decreased inflammation and protein oxidation, as well as a decrease in Zonulin, a marker of leaky gut when compared to those taking the placebo. “These results demonstrate promising benefits for probiotic use in trained men,” stated the authors, “Our data support the hypothesis that an adequate probiotic supplementation can improve intestinal barrier function, redox hemostasis, and low-grade inflammation in men under sustained exercise stress.”

This study builds on previous studies that have found probiotics to help reduce respiratory tract infections in sports and exercise, and to shorten the duration of digestive symptoms in trained athletes. Probiotics have also been found to decrease inflammation and increase antioxidant levels after exercise. Athletes are yet one more group of people who are discovering that digestive health is the foundation of total-body health.