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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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    • 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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Are Chemicals Tested for Safety?

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 04/29/2013


A recent article in the New York Times will hopefully get people talking about the complete lack of safety testing of chemicals that are ubiquitous in today’s world. There are now 85,000 chemicals in use in the United States, yet only a very small percentage of these chemicals are tested for safety. I bring attention to this fact whenever I get the chance, and I’m glad the New York Times is helping to spread the word, too.

The article points out that the Toxic Substances Control Act, the country’s main chemical safety law, “is the only major environmental statute whose core provisions have not been reauthorized or substantively updated since its adoption in the 1970s.” The burden of safety testing is currently placed on the government.

Companies are required to alert the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) before manufacturing or importing new chemicals, and the EPA has 90 days to determine whether the chemical poses a safety risk. But here’s the kick—the chemical companies are not required to provide any safety data.

“It’s the worst kind of Catch-22,” stated Richard Denison, senior scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund. “Under this law, the EPA can’t even require testing to determine whether a risk exists without first showing a risk is likely.” The EPA has succeeded in banning or restricting only five substances: polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), dioxin, hexavalent chromium, asbestos, and chlorofluorocarbons.

Hopefully, the Safe Chemical Act of 2013, introduced earlier this month, will help to change these outdated regulations. It would require the chemical industry to demonstrate safety before chemicals are sold. Here is a link that allows you to ask your Senators to co-sponsor the Safe Chemicals Act. Help spread the word. This is a change that has been a long time coming!

Dirty Dozen 2013

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 04/26/2013


Every year, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) puts out a list of the most and least pesticide-laden fruits and vegetables so that consumers can make informed decisions about how to purchase these foods. In general, the produce on the Dirty Dozen list, which includes the most toxic produce, should be purchased organic. The clean 15, on the other hand, include the cleanest produce available.

This year, the EWG has updated the list. I notice green beans have been taken off the Dirty Dozen list, having been newly added to the list last year. They state, “green beans were on last year’s list because they were often contaminated with two highly toxic organophosphates. Those pesticides are being withdrawn from agriculture.”

On the Clean Fifteen List you will find papaya and corn, two foods that may be lower in pesticides, but are commonly genetically modified. To avoid eating GMOs, you can eat organic versions of these foods, which is the only way to ensure you aren’t eating genetically modified produce.

Check out both lists here so that you can make the best food choices for you and your family.

Children at Risk of Accumulated Toxins from Foods

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 04/26/2013


Foods are supposed to be nourishing, tasty, and health-promoting. Yet even a healthy diet can contain a high amount of toxins that are linked to poor health. When it comes to the diets of children, high toxin content becomes particularly important, considering children’s increased risk of toxicity at lower levels of exposure.

In a relatively recent study published in the journal Environmental Health, researchers measured toxin exposure through diet and found that children—particularly preschool children—were at high risk of exposure to arsenic, dieldrin, DDE (a metabolite of DDT), dioxins, and acrylamide. Due to the link between these toxins and cancer, developmental disabilities, birth defects, and other conditions, this was quite an eye-opening study.

All 364 children involved in the study exceeded cancer benchmark levels for arsenic, dieldrin, DDE, and dioxins. Over 95 percent of the children exceeded non-cancer levels for acrylamide, a toxin produced during the processing of starchy carbohydrates into foods like tortilla and potato chips.

“We focused on children because early exposure can have long-term effects on disease outcomes,” stated lead researcher, Rainbow Vogt, “Currently, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency only measures risk based on exposures of individual contaminants. We wanted to understand the cumulative risk from dietary contaminants. The results of this study demonstrate a need to prevent exposure to multiple toxins in young children to lower their cancer risk.”

The study suggested ways to lower toxin exposure. The researchers recommend choosing organic produce to lower pesticide exposure, and they suggest a varied diet to reduce accumulation of any one toxin. Reduction of animal meat and fats, which may contain high levels of DDE and other persistent organic pollutants, and switching to organic milk and dairy products, is also suggested. Mercury avoidance by eating smaller fish such as sardines and avoiding large fish such as albacore or ahi tuna (which accumulate mercury), is recommended along with reducing consumption of processed carbohydrates to decrease exposure to acrylamide.

These are all recommendations I have been making all along—for adults and children. We simply must take control of our health by purchasing and eating foods that nourish us while reducing our toxic burden. Over the past few decades I have witnessed an ever-rising interest and consumption of such foods. It gives me hope that we are moving in a positive direction when it comes to a health-promoting diet.

Fecal Bacteriotherapy for Ulcerative Colitis in Children

Filed in General | Posted by lsmith on 04/24/2013


The great success of fecal bacteriotherapy, or fecal microbial transplant (FMT), for people with recurrent C. difficile infection has researchers investigating this treatment for other digestive diseases, most notably ulcerative colitis. A recent study published in the Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology & Nutrition is the first to study this treatment in children and young adults with ulcerative colitis.1

“Colonic dysbiosis contributes to the development of colonic inflammation in ulcerative colitis (UC). Fecal microbial transplantation is being proposed as a novel treatment for UC as it can eliminate dysbiosis,” state the researchers. “We believe that the procedure may restore ‘normal’ in patients with UC. Our short-term study looked at the safety and tolerability of FMT for these patients.”

In the study, 10 patients aged 7 to 21 years with UC received daily fecal enemas for five days. In seven of the nine subjects who completed the treatment, 78 percent showed improvement within one week. Sixty-seven percent maintained the improvement after four weeks (the duration of the study). Thirty-three percent achieved clinical remission (remission is when all disease activity clears up) after one week of FMT.

“Patients often face a tough choice between various medications that have significant side effects. Allowing the disease to progress can lead to surgical removal of their colon,” stated Sachin Kunde, MD, MPH, pediatric gastroenterologist. “Our study showed that fecal enemas were feasible and well-tolerated by children with UC.”

The results of this study, although good, do not quite reach the 90+ percent effectiveness as seen in C. diff studies that administer the FMT via colonoscope, which delivers the transplant further into the colon. Also, I would be interested to learn the longer-term outcome of this study. Do these children remain improved or in remission three or six months later?

Researchers are still trying to figure out the best way to administer FMT. The authors of this study noted, “We must further investigate standardization of FMT preparation, ideal donor selection, the best route of administration, and optimal duration or scheduling of FMT to induce and maintain a clinical response.”

I believe our best bet will be a super probiotic, similar to the one used in the RePOOPulate study I blogged about recently, in which an array of beneficial bacteria are included that have been screened and selected for optimal survival and health benefits.2 I look forward to more studies on this topic, and I will share them as they emerge.

 

References

  1. S. Kunde, et al., “Safety, tolerability, and clinical response after fecal transplantation in children and young adults with ulcerative colitis.” J Ped Gastroenterol Nutr. 2013 Mar 29. [Epub ahead of print]
  2. E.O. Petrof, et al., “Stool substitute transplant therapy for the eradication of Clostridium difficile infection: ‘PePOOPulating’ the gut.” Microbiome. 2013;1:3.

Immune Benefits of Omega-3 Fats

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 04/22/2013


The immune benefits of omega-3 fats are generally described as their ability to quell inflammation by balancing the omega-3/omega-6 ratio. Omega-3 fats have an anti-inflammatory effect, and an excess amount of omega-6 fats have an inflammatory effect. Mistaken conclusions have been drawn about the anti-inflammatory effects of omega-3s being immune-suppressive. Dr. Smith has previously helped to explain that immune function is an intricate balance, with many factors at play, and that omega-3s play a role in immune balance, most of all.

A recent study published in the Journal of Leukocyte Biology has uncovered an immune-stimulation effect of DHA-enriched omega-3 fish oil in an animal model that detects immune cell function. Researchers found that the omega-3 fish oil enhanced function of B cells—white blood cells important to the function of the adaptive branch of the immune system, which produces antibodies to foreign invaders such as allergens or pathogens.

“This work confirms similar findings on fish oil and B cells from our lab, and moves us one step closer to understanding the immune-enhancing properties of EPA and DHA,” stated S. Raza Shaikh, PhD, a researcher involved in the study.

We must remember that omega-3 fats become incorporated into the cell membranes of almost all cells in the body. They are also present, at least temporarily, in the blood stream and other areas of the body as they become assimilated into cells and tissues. Due to their widespread presence throughout the body, and in light of the myriad benefits they display, it’s not surprising that their immune-promoting effects involve boosting immunity at the same time as they quell inflammation.

Again, this comes back to balance—one of the most prominent properties of this important nutrient. Omega-3 fats can be considered one of the great balancing nutrients and part of a healthy diet.

Fish Oil Supplementation Boosts Young Children’s IQ

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 04/19/2013


Most parents want their children to get ahead in the world, and intelligence level tends to be the measure society uses to gauge the ability to excel. While there are certainly arguments to that point, not many parents would pass up the chance to increase IQ level in their children if they could.

A recent study published in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science analyzed data form the Database of Raising Intelligence, a continually updated compendium of randomized controlled trials that were designed to increase intelligence. From this data, they used 4 meta-analyses to determine what practices are most effective to raise young children’s IQ. These are the four factors they found helpful:

  • Supplementing infants with omega-3 fish oil
  • Enrolling children in early education interventions
  • Reading to children in an interactive manner
  • Sending children to preschool

I was pleased, and not surprised, to see the first item listed as omega-3 fish oil supplementation. They found it can raise IQ by 3.5 points. “Identifying the link between essential fatty acids and intelligence gives rise to tantalizing new questions for future research and we look forward to exploring this finding,” stated lead researcher John Protzko.

The researchers analyzed data on a number of supplements, including iron, thiamine, ascorbic acid (vitamin C), and B-complex vitamins, but none made a significant impact like the omega-3 fish oil did. “Although providing iron supplements to pregnant mothers and infants may not boost young children’s IQ, introducing them later in a child’s life might,” they stated.

Omega-3 fish oil, especially the omega-3 DHA, is important to fetal and infant brain development, so these results certainly make sense. Prenatal and postnatal DHA supplementation is an important part of optimizing brain health in our young children today.

Inflammation During Pregnancy Linked to Autism

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 04/17/2013


While the number of children with autism increases—currently we’re at one in 50—researchers are trying to determine what factors contribute to its development. In a recent study funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, researchers found that the risk of autism was increased by 43 percent in mothers with C-reactive protein (CRP) levels in the top 20 percent, and increased by 80 percent in mothers with CRP levels in the top 10 percent (the highest of the high).

CRP is a marker of inflammation. This new study suggests that an overactive immune response may affect fetal brain development during pregnancy. “Elevated CRP is a signal that the body is undergoing a response to inflammation from, for example, a viral or bacterial infection,” stated lead researcher Alan Brown, MD. “The higher the level of CRP in the mother, the greater the risk of autism in the child.”

They make sure to note that just because a pregnant women has elevated CRP doesn’t mean her child will develop autism, but only that it may increase risk. There are a number of factors that contribute to the development of autism, many of them still under investigation (and some of them controversial).

“The vast majority of mothers with increased CRP levels will not give birth to children with autism,” stated Brown. “We don’t know enough yet to suggest routine testing of pregnant mothers for CRP for this reason alone; however, exercising precautionary measures to prevent infections during pregnancy may be of considerable value.”

I talk about the role of silent inflammation in relation to a wide range of health conditions, and I like to highlight the gut as a main source of this inflammation. Indeed, intestinal infections and digestive symptoms are common in autism. And there is even more to the complex story underlying autism and its many contributing factors, inflammation being a common thread uniting many of these factors. Studies like these help to uncover the real story behind this troubling condition.

Standard American Diet (SAD) Linked to Increased Risk of Colon Cancer Recurrence or Death

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 04/15/2013


The Standard American Diet (SAD)—high in starchy carbohydrates and sugars, unhealthy fats, and meats, and low in nutrient-dense vegetables and fruits—has been linked, yet again, to poor health. This time researchers have found that the SAD diet increases the risk of recurrence or death of stage III colon cancer.

In a study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, participants with stage III cancer who had the highest carbohydrate intake were found to have an 80 percent increased risk of colon cancer recurrence or death compared with those eating the lowest amount of carbs. In overweight or obese patients, the risk was even greater.

“In light of our and other’s research, we theorize that factors including a high glycemic load may stimulate the body’s production of insulin. That, in turn, may increase the proliferation of cells and prevent the natural cell-death process in cancer cells that have metastasized from their original site,” stated lead author, Jeffrey Meyerhardt, MD, MPH. “Our findings may offer useful guidance for patients and physicians in ways of improving patient survival after treatment.”

I try to emphasize diet as the most important component of a healthy lifestyle. Without a healthy diet rich in non-starchy vegetables and fruits, healthy fats, lean proteins, nuts, and seeds, your road to health will be a meandering journey that doesn’t quite get to the place of vibrant health you are seeking. The Standard American Diet, enticing as it may be, promotes silent inflammation and disease in the body. This study is yet one more glimpse of that basic reality—our diets must change.

Overdiagnosis of Reflux in Infants

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 04/12/2013


Diagnosis of reflux in colicky infants is on the rise. Unfortunately, this means that doctor’s recommendation of acid-suppressing medication in infants is also on the rise. Is it that infants have more reflux than they did in the past, or are doctors overdiagnosing reflux (just as they do in adults)? According to a recent study published in the journal Pediatrics, researchers found that physicians tend to easily label common symptoms in infants, such as crying and spitting up, as reflux disease. 

“As doctors, we need to appreciate that the words we use when talking with patients and parents have power—the power to make a normal process seem like a disease. As pediatricians, our job is to make sick children healthy, not healthy children sick,” stated Beth Tarini, MD, one of the researchers. Laura Scherer, PhD, another researcher, continued, “The growing digestive systems of an infant can be finicky and cause the child to regurgitate. The discomfort can cause the infant to cry, but it is not necessarily a disease.”

The long-term side effects of acid-suppressing medication in infants have not been adequately investigated, with some studies linking its use to increased risk of pneumonia. Quite frankly, safety and effectiveness of most of these medications in infants have not been established. Fortunately, there are other, safer approaches that can be taken when it comes to colic induced by reflux. I have blogged about one potential solution previously—probiotics.

The first step when it comes to infant reflux is to observe the baby’s eating habits. Decreasing feeding amount while increasing frequency may help to keep baby’s stomach less full at any one time. Holding baby upright after feeding will help keep stomach contents down and reduce reflux. 

Another important, yet often minimized, factor is potential food allergy or sensitivity. Dairy, soy, or gluten sensitivity of baby formula or breast milk (due to certain foods consumed by mother) can play a big role in baby’s symptoms. Formula-fed infants may need to switch to a hypoallergenic formula. Breastfeeding mothers would do well do eliminate foods that commonly trigger sensitivity (such as dairy, soy, and gluten) to determine whether reflux symptoms improve in baby. Re-introducing one food at a time after it has been eliminated (to see if symptoms return when it’s reintroduced) for a few weeks can help to verify the food’s contribution to symptoms. Find an integrative/holistically-minded pediatrician who can help guide this process, instead of one who prescribes acid blockers at the first sign of distress.

Gut Microbe May be Responsible for Your Weight Gain

Filed in General | Posted by lsmith on 04/10/2013


Currently, researchers worldwide are studying the contribution of the gut microbiota (the 100 trillion bacteria that reside in our gut) to human health and disease. In the United States, the Human Microbiome Project is making a dent in this broad field of study, with researchers discovering how little we really know about this vast population that lives within and on us, helping to shape our health, or lack thereof. In addition, other research groups independent of the Human Microbiome Project are studying the link between our gut inhabitants and our health.

A recent study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism has contributed to our further understanding of this vital gut connection.1 Researchers from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center analyzed data from almost 800 people and found that increased body mass index (BMI) and percent body fat were linked to the presence of methane and hydrogen gasses as measured by a breath test, suggesting that the presence of a methane-producing microbe—Methanobacter smithii, the most prevalent methane producer in the gut—is perhaps contributing to the weight gain.

The lead researcher Ruchi Mather, MD stated, “Usually, the microorganisms living in the digestive tract benefit us by helping to convert food into energy. However, when this particular organism—M. smithii—becomes overabundant, it may alter this balance in a way that causes someone to be more likely to gain weight. Essentially, it could allow a person to harvest more calories from their food.”

Another interesting explanation in the paper, which was not reported in media articles that summarized the results, is the possible effect of methane on bowel habit. The researcher previously noted an associated between breath methane and constipation (constipation-predominant irritable bowel syndrome), and found that methane gas slowed gut transit (the time it takes food to travel through the digestive tract—slow gut transit is what happens when you’re constipated) in an animal model.

They stated, “We hypothesize that the slowing of transit could result in greater time to harvest nutrients and absorb calories, representing another potential mechanism for weight gain. They are saying, essentially, that constipation could make you fat. Indeed.

The researchers are continuing to study the effects of M. smithii on obesity and prediabetes to confirm this link in another study funded by the American Diabetes Association. Mathur stated, “We’re only beginning to understand the incredibly complex communities that live inside of us. If we can understand how they affect our metabolism, we may be able to work with these microscopic communities to positively impact our health.”

The gut connection to metabolic disorders, including diabetes and obesity, will likely change the way we treat these conditions, which are currently at epidemic proportions. Stay tuned as researchers get closer to understanding the intricate happenings in the human digestive tract.

 

References

  1. R. Mathur, et al., “Methane and hydrogen positivity on breath test is associated with greater body mass index and body fat.” J Clin Endocrin Metab. 2013 March; doi: 10.1210/jc.2012-3144.