• Gut Health
  • Heart Health
    • Heart Health

      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 .

  • Diet & Health
    • 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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    • Pet Health

      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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Did You Take Antibiotics for a Cough this Season?

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 03/29/2013


This past winter I noticed a lot of people were sick with a cold, flu, or cough (or a combination). Unfortunately, what ends up happening is that a lot of people take antibiotics unnecessarily for such illnesses. I’d like to share an interesting study that will hopefully help educate us on this important topic.

The Annals of Family Medicine journal recently published a study that determined the actual length of time the body takes to rid itself of a chest cold. Most patients consider seven to nine days as the length of time a cough should last. But the reality is quite different. It turns out the average cough lasts more like 18 days. The lead researcher, Mark Ebell, MD stated, “If someone gets acute bronchitis and isn’t better after four or five days, they may think they need to see a doctor and get an antibiotic. And when the first one doesn’t work, they come back four or five days later for another.”

Chest cold is one of the most common conditions for which antibiotics are overprescribed. Ebell agrees, “We know from clinical trials there is very little, if any, benefit to antibiotic treatments for acute cough because most of these illnesses are caused by a virus. Among patients who receive antibiotics, about half of those will be very broad spectrum antibiotics that have the potential to increase antibiotic resistance. These are antibiotics that would be nice to still have around when we actually need them, like for someone who may have pneumonia.”

Perhaps this study can shed some light on your own sicknesses. If you tend to be someone who takes antibiotics for cold and flu-like illnesses, including bronchitis, remember that antibiotics are often unnecessary. Talk with your doctor about the best way to fend off the illness without contributing to antibiotic resistance.

A Dream Come True! Renew H.O.P.E!

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 03/27/2013


It’s been fifteen years now since Stan and I founded ReNew Life, our digestive care supplement company. From the start, struggling on the road and working out of the trunk of my car, my mission has been to help people achieve optimal health. My greatest joy comes from realizing that the products we manufacture have helped millions of people regain and maintain good health. Of this, I am proud and grateful.

Now another dream of mine is being realized. The Renew H.O.P.E. Foundation! Renew H.O.P.E. is on a mission to make natural and integrative health care options available and affordable for those in need.

Topping the list of health crises in our country today is affordable health care. Insurance benefits are increasingly limited, especially with regard to alternative treatments—that is, if we have coverage at all. And the life-changing benefits of proper nutrition and natural health modalities are at the forefront of reported research on a daily basis, however the programs themselves can be costly.

Renew H.O.P.E (Health, Options, Prevention, and Education) is committed to HOPE for a healthier future. We have several helpful programs in place so far:

  • The H.O.P.E. To Health program provides the opportunity to re-establish digestive health through dietary means and nutritional support. This program empowers its members with the tools and supplements they need to turn their health challenges around and share this information with others.
  • The Nutrition for Hire program is an affiliation of natural health care practitioners and professionals dedicated to educating communities and transforming community members’ health through lectures, consultations, and events.
  • The On Your Way program works one-on-one with qualified individuals to get them the integrative health care and education they need. This program offers financial assistance and expert referrals to the alternative health care practitioners best suited to them.

Please visit us on the web at http://www.renewhope.org/ and consider if you or anyone you know may be able to benefit from one of our programs.

As a non-profit organization, Renew H.O.P.E. depends on donations to keep offering assistance. Find out how you can donate and get involved with us! We’ve even formed a kickoff indiegogo campaign – please check it out hereAny donation amount can make a huge difference in someone’s health. As we know, good health adds up, one small step at a time!

What You Should Know About Sugar

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 03/25/2013


In my new PBS special, Heart of Perfect Health I talk a lot about sugar. By the way, it’s airing through the month of March nationally. I hope you catch it!

Most of us don’t link heart and cardiovascular disease risk to our sugar intake, but it turns out that blood sugar levels affect far more than just your risk of diabetes.

High blood sugar is a major sign of the underlying cause of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and other conditions. This risk factor is silent, causes no pain, and most people have no idea if it’s happening to them or not. It’s called silent inflammation and it starts in the gut.

There are two types of inflammation:

  • Acute inflammation happens when you smash your finger and blood flow rushes to the site, healing the injury.
  • Silent inflammation happens internally and often originates in the gut as a result of a leaky gut, or intestines that have become too permeable due to a poor diet, lack of gut-healing nutrients, stress, and other factors. Silent inflammation does not heal itself. You can’t feel silent inflammation or see it.

The signs of silent inflammation include high blood cholesterol, high blood pressure, and high blood sugar. High blood sugar makes blood vessels stiff and weak, increases blood pressure and harmful cholesterol, weakens immunity and digestion, and causes weight gain. Most importantly high blood sugar is a major preventable risk factor for heart disease, yet very few of us are checking our fasting blood sugar levels regularly.

How Much Sugar Should I Eat?

The best way to begin lowering your fasting blood sugar/glucose levels is to monitor your daily sugar intake. Your fasting blood sugar should be no higher than 85 and you should be consuming no more than 10 teaspoon of sugar each day. That’s total sugars, including the pastas and breads you eat that are converted to sugar. You may be surprised to learn that many of us are consuming over 37 teaspoons of sugar daily!

Packaged foods are labeled according to grams of sugar and carbohydrates, not teaspoons. Use this quick sugar conversion formula to find out exactly how much true sugar is in your food:

Total grams of carbs – Total grams of fiber / 5  =  Total teaspoons of sugar

That’s the total grams of carbs minus the total grams of fiber listed in the nutrition facts on a label, all divided by 5. This will give you the total teaspoons of sugar in a serving of that food. It’s important to take the total grams of carbs, not total grams of sugar when you are doing your conversion. That way, you are taking into account the sugars that break down from carbohydrates in addition to sugars themselves. The Total Sugars number listed on the label is meaningless.

Early Infections May Increase Risk of Celiac Disease

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 03/22/2013


Celiac disease is an autoimmune digestive condition in which the body’s immune system damages the villi (fingerlike projections) of the small intestine in response to the presence of gluten, found in wheat, barley, rye, and oats. This intestinal damage prevents the absorption of key nutrients important to health, eventually leading to malnourishment in untreated individuals.

One in every 133 people in the United States has celiac disease, significantly more common than it was just a few generations ago. There are a number of factors thought to increase susceptibility to celiac disease. One factor is the extensive hybridization of wheat over the years. One celiac researcher at the Mayo Clinic, Joseph Murray, MD, stated, “We have no idea what effect these changes may have on the immune system.”

Another possible contributing factor was recently investigated in a study published in the journal BMC Pediatrics. Swedish scientists found that infants who had repeated infections early in life (greater than three infections before six months of age) were at increased risk of later developing celiac disease, regardless of the type of infections.

Further, the researchers stated, “We found a synergistic effect between early infections and daily amount of gluten intake, more pronounced among infants for whom breastfeeding had been discontinued prior to gluten introduction. . . This synergistic effect substantiates the importance of breastfeeding with respect to celiac disease risk, especially in a setting with high infectious load.”

Simply stated, breastfeeding likely helps protect against the development of celiac disease, especially in infants with repeated infections before six months of age. One particular paper published in 2007 concluded, “Based on current evidence, it appears reasonable to recommend that gluten be introduced in small amounts in the diet between 4 and 6 months, while the infant is breastfed, and that breastfeeding is continued for at least a further 2–3 months.”

The researchers acknowledge the role the gut microbiota play, suggesting gut imbalance as a possible explanation for the findings of the study. Breastfeeding is a major factor in the colonization of a healthy balance of gut bacteria, which greatly affect immune function. Differences have been found in the gut microbiota composition of people with celiac disease when compared to those without it, so it’s a likely explanation.

As more studies emerge, I’ll keep you posted.

Have we Been Misled? What you Should Know about Dietary Fats

Filed in General | Posted by lsmith on 03/20/2013


Have you been given the advice to substitute vegetables oils high in polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) for animal fats high in saturated fats? Sure you have—if you have been listening to worldwide dietary guidelines since the 1960s. The basis of this advice relates to studies that found diets high in PUFAs are associated with lower levels of cholesterol. So a diet high in PUFAs has long been recommended as a heart-healthy diet.

There are two main types of PUFAs—omega-6 and omega-3 PUFAs (both are not made by the body and must be taken as food or supplements). When these widespread dietary guidelines were made, people switched from animals fats (primarily butter and lard) to omega-6 PUFAs (primarily vegetable oils). The result of this switch was a drastic change in the omega-6 to omega-3 ratio. People were eating much more omega-6, but the same amount of omega-3 (which for most people was, and still is, very little). And saturated fats ended up taking the blame for poor heart health.

While some scientists questioned the reasoning behind these recommendations, industry and government charged ahead spreading the message that PUFAs were good and animal fats were bad. And somehow, omega-3 fats were marginalized.

In 1978, the Sydney Diet Heart Study (SDHS) brought some light to this topic, however.1 Researchers evaluated data on a group of people who replaced animal fats with safflower oil. Because safflower oil is a PUFA high in omega-6 with no omega-3, this study provided a clear look at what happens when omega-6 PUFAs are increased, yet omega-3 PUFAs are not. The people who replaced saturated animal fats with polyunsaturated omega-6 safflower oil were found to be at increased risk of death from all causes (all-cause mortality).

You would think that might have raised the red flag, but for some reason, people went right on recommending the replacement of saturated fat with vegetable oils. And we listened.

A recent study published in the British Medical Journal will hopefully help change this story, and be an eye-opener to nutrition, dietary, and medical professionals worldwide. Researchers obtained the original data from the SDHS study and used modern statistical methods to compare rates of all-cause death as well as cardiovascular and coronary heart disease death by group.2 As suspected, they found that increasing omega-6 PUFA from safflower oil increased death rates from cardiovascular disease, coronary heart disease, and all-cause mortality when compared to a diet rich in saturated fats from animal fats.

This study also opens up questions about previous studies that have found cardiovascular benefit by replacing animal fats with PUFAs—those studies did not control for the fact that people were also increasing omega-3 PUFAs. They state, “Therefore, benefits previously attributed to greater intake of total PUFA might be specifically attributable to omega-3 PUFAs, and are not necessarily generalizable to omega-6, or PUFAs in general.”

Here the plot thickens. It is known that increasing omega-6 fats in the diet lowers total cholesterol, mostly by reducing LDL-cholesterol (also known as “bad” cholesterol). Traditional recommendations to reduce saturated fat are based on the assumption that this decrease in LDL-cholesterol will result in reduced risk of coronary heart disease and improve survival. In this new study, total cholesterol levels were decreased as expected, but—and this is important—these reductions were not associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular death.

They stated, “These observations, combined with recent progress in the field of fatty acid metabolism, point to a mechanism of cardiovascular disease pathogenesis independent of our traditional understanding of cholesterol lowering.” This is just the point that Brenda and I make in our latest book, Heart of Perfect Health: there is more to the story than simply lowering cholesterol levels. In fact, an entire chapter is dedicated to this topic, entitled, “Cholesterol is Not All Bad.”

The paper goes on to talk about the importance of the state in which cholesterol is found (just as our book does). They recognize that oxidized omega-6 linoleic acid metabolites (OXLAMs) are the most abundant oxidized fatty acids found in oxidized LDL-cholesterol. And oxidized LDL (which is, essentially, damaged LDL that creates oxidative stress and inflammation) is a significant marker of plaque buildup in the arteries.

The good news is that we can reverse the damage we’ve done. The same researchers recently performed another study showing that by lowering dietary omega-6 linoleic acid for 12 weeks, they were able to reduce omega-6 linoleic acid and their oxidized metabolites in circulation, and increase omega-3 EPA and DHA.3 This is most likely due to the fact that omega-6 linoleic acid (LA) competes with omega-3 alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) for the same enzymes (enlongase and desaturase). If there is too much omega-6 LA, then omega-3 ALA will not be able to convert into EPA and DHA. As we know, higher amounts of EPA and DHA are associated with better heart health.

The results of this study, in combination with a few previous studies that have been helping to build the evidence against the current widespread dietary recommendations, will hopefully get the attention they deserve. Indeed, the paper concludes, “These findings could have important implications for worldwide incorrect dietary advice to substitute omega-6 linoleic acid, or PUFAs in general, for saturated fats.” Let’s hope everyone is listening.

 

References

  1. J.M. Woodhill, et al., “Low fat, low cholesterol diet in secondary prevention of coronary heart disease.” Adv Exp Med Biol. 1978;109:317-30.
  2. C.E. Ramsden, D. Samora, et al., “Use of dietary linoleic acid for secondary prevention of coronary heart disease and death: evaluation of recovered data from the Sydney Diet Heart Study and updated meta-analysis.” BMJ. 2013;346:e8707.
  3. C.E. Ramsden, et al., “Lowering dietary linoleic acid reduces bioactive oxidized linoleic acid metabolites in humans.” Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids. 2012 Oct-Nov;87(4-5):135-41.

 

Gluten-Free Diet—The Skeptics Are Quieting, But A Few Linger

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 03/18/2013


The rapidly increasing interest in the gluten-free diet has been labeled by many as a fad diet. I disagree with this assumption. Fad diets tend to be weight loss diets, for the most part, or detox diets (which are usually promoted as weight loss diets). The gluten free diet isn’t about weight loss. It’s about feeling better. It’s about healing. It’s about getting to the bottom of what ails you.

The amount of people who have transformed their health—and improved an astonishing variety of health conditions all over the body—by removing gluten from the diet is truly amazing. That kind of health improvement is impossible to ignore.

Unfortunately, not everyone is on board with the gluten-free diet. Certain “experts” are trying to call foul play on the whole thing. A recent New York Times article addressed gluten sensitivity and gluten-free diets. While the article did point out the validity of gluten sensitivity as a real health condition for which many people find relief with a gluten free diet, it also stated, “Experts have been skeptical. It does not make sense, for example, that someone would lose weight on a gluten-free diet.” Someone at the New York Times needs to read Dr. William Davis’ book Wheat Belly (incidentally, a New York Times bestseller)!

The article didn’t quite advocate the gluten-free diet, but it certainly didn’t write it off. In fact, it provided a number of important points in support of the diet in people who are gluten sensitive. It did recommend that people visit a doctor before going on a gluten-free diet for the simple reason that celiac disease, a more serious condition similar to gluten sensitivity, may not be detectable in people who have been following a gluten-free diet, and thus, may go undiagnosed. What the article did help to point out was that you can still have gluten sensitivity even if celiac disease has been ruled out. And the treatment for both of these conditions? A gluten-free diet.

The bottom line is if you try a gluten-free diet (and that means no gluten for at least six weeks; three months is even better) and you feel better, what does that tell you? The proof is in the pudding folks (the gluten-free pudding).

EPA to Take a Closer Look at Risk of Low-level Toxin Exposure

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 03/15/2013


Last March, a group of scientists published a report calling for more investigation into the potentially harmful effects of exposure to low levels of endocrine disruptors, such as bisphenol A (BPA). “Current testing paradigms are missing important, sensitive endpoints” for human health, stated the report. “The effects of low doses cannot be predicted by the effects observed at high doses. Thus, fundamental changes in chemical testing and safety determination are needed to protect human health.”

The EPA is finally responding to this report by collaborating with other federal agencies to determine whether traces of chemicals found in food, cosmetics, pesticides, and plastics affect human development and reproduction. They will also determine whether current testing of hormone effects is accurate. They expect to publish a “state of the science” report by the end of 2013.

Frederick vom Saal, co-author of the March report, noted, “I’m thrilled that they’re doing this and it’s desperately needed. Hopefully it won’t take long and we can stop asking whether there are low-dose effects and then deal with the fact that there are.” He said, “You cannot test a hormone like you would a toxicant. A chemical that adds or subtracts to hormones already in your body is going to have effects at low levels.”

Let’s hope this is a turn for the better, and that it helps to change, sooner rather than later, the way toxins are assessed. I’ll be sure to report when the EPA’s paper is published. In the meantime, try to reduce your exposure to endocrine disrupting hormones by reducing use of plastics when possible (especially heating food in plastics—don’t do it), and using BPA-free plastics and cans when possible.

Silent Inflammation Linked to Depression

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 03/13/2013


Silent inflammation is a chronic, low-grade inflammation that exists in the body in such a way that you don’t really see it or feel it. When silent inflammation persists it can trigger a host of negative health effects. In fact, inflammation is involved in most, if not all, chronic disease.

A relatively recent discovery is the role silent inflammation plays in mental disorders such as depression. As it turns out, depression is not “all in your head.” In a recent study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry researchers found elevated levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), a commonly used marker of inflammation. They also found increasing CRP levels were associated with increasing risk for hospitalization with depression.

The researchers state “The results also support the initiation of intervention studies to examine whether adding anti-inflammatory drugs to antidepressants for treatment of depression will improve outcome.” But I say, why not take a look at what might be causing the inflammation? Instead of throwing another medication into the mix, why not attempt to address inflammation at the source?

What causes silent inflammation? Well, the gut is the major source, either by way of a poor diet (too much sugar, too little omega-3 fat) and/or dysbiosis (gut imbalance). Can a poor diet and gut imbalance be underlying depression? Sure can. And is silent inflammation a likely explanation for this connection? Sure is.

Although the connections between digestive health and total body health are constantly emerging in medical science, it takes mainstream medicine 20 years, in general, to adopt new information. In the meantime, balance your gut to heal your body—and mind!

The Stress Factor and Your Heart

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 03/11/2013


It’s true that just about everyone is stressed these days. Our lives are packed with things to do, places to be, and then more things to do. We are constantly on the move with little down time to help us recuperate. And sleep? It’s usually cut short to make time for something else seemingly “more important.”

This current pattern of go-go-go seems to work alright for a period of time. We feel efficient, productive, capable—all qualities our current society applauds. Until one day the quality of our health slaps us in the face with symptoms we never saw coming—digestive disruptions, fatigue, aches and pains, depression, or worse. We then treat these symptoms with medications and maybe even a better diet, but we rarely address the underlying factor to most, if not all, health conditions—stress.

You may have heard me refer to inflammation as the underlying factor of most, if not all, chronic diseases. It’s true. And the gut is a major source of this inflammation. But do you know what causes both inflammation and gut imbalance (among a host of other things)? Stress!

That’s right. If you’re under stress, your gut bacteria become imbalanced. Beneficial Bifidobacteria levels decrease. And if you’re under stress, inflammation increases. When you’re under stress, your body responds in a way that decreases your health.

Heart disease is one major condition that is triggered by stress. For many years, scientists have known that people with heart disease also commonly experience stress. But now they know that stress actually leads to heart disease. In a recent study published in the American Journal of Cardiology, researchers found that people under high stress had an increased risk of heart disease equal to that seen in people with increased LDL cholesterol, high blood pressure, or in people who smoke five cigarettes daily.

“These findings are significant because they are applicable to nearly everyone. The key takeaway is that how people feel is important for their heart health, so anything they can do to reduce stress may improve their heart health in the future.” Interestingly, the researchers found that the risk of heart disease in people under high stress increased with age. Next the researchers plan to assess whether broad population-based measures to reduce stress are cost-effective. I don’t see how they wouldn’t be.

On your journey toward better health, don’t forget this integral piece of the puzzle—stress management. Take note of the activities that reduce stress for you and work them into your regular schedule. Stress reducing activities such as massage, relaxation, meditation, or certain exercises are strongly recommended.

Lower Blood Pressure in People Who Eat Gaspacho

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 03/08/2013


High blood pressure is a major risk factor for the development of heart disease—particularly heart attack and stroke—nd is a sign of an underlying process known as silent inflammation, as I talk about on my new PBS show and book of the same name, Heart of Perfect Health. About 25 percent of the adult population has high blood pressure. Have you checked your blood pressure lately? If not, please do. They best way to check it is to get a blood pressure cuff and measure it throughout the day.

A recent study published in the journal Nutrition, Metabolism & Cardiovascular Diseases on the effects of the Mediterranean diet investigated the effect of gazpacho consumption in 3,995 individuals with high cardiovascular risk. They found that gazpacho consumption reduced blood pressure. “Previous clinical and epidemiological studies associate the consumption of gazpacho’s main ingredients (tomato, cucumber, garlic, olive oil, etc.) with an arterial [blood] pressure reduction,” stated Alexander Medina-Remon, an author of the study. “This new scientific study states for the first time that a regular consumption of gazpacho is as beneficial as the consumption of its ingredients individually; so gazpacho can reduce hypertension [high blood pressure].”

The findings were somewhat surprising, since gazpacho contains salt, which is known to raise blood pressure. “Gazpacho contains carotenes, vitamin C, and polyphenols. The final balance of the bioactive elements of gazpacho and its salt content makes it to be cardio-healthy; in other words, at the end, the positive effect of all the ingredients that contribute to the reduction of [blood] pressure prevails over salt’s effect.”

The risk of high blood pressure was reduced by up to 27% in some people. Future research will evaluate just how gazpacho affects blood pressure. In the meantime, find a good gazpacho recipe and get cooking for healthy blood pressure and a healthy heart.