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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.

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    • 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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My Public Television Specials Are Airing in June!

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 05/31/2013


I’m excited to announce that my Public Television shows—Heart of Perfect Health and The Road to Perfect Health—will be airing again this month from June 1st through June 16th. You’ll find a wealth of surprising and life-changing information on how Americans can live longer, healthier and more productive lives.

For the past 20 years, many of you have been with me as I’ve uncovered the core of optimum health, sharing my personal and in-depth experiences with digestive care, digestive disease, and its many health repercussions. I’m very thankful that my books, health supplements, Public Television shows and clinics have been able to reach millions across America. My goal has been to provide the tools to transform your health through a powerfully simple and integrated approach.

Heart of Perfect Health: The Startling Truths About Heart Disease

In Heart of Perfect Health, you’ll watch as I uncover the root of America’s #1 killer, heart disease, in a hidden condition known as silent inflammation.

Silent inflammation is so pervasive—and evasive—that most people have no idea it is happening to them. Yet research now tells us that silent inflammation is directly linked to high blood pressure, high cholesterol, high blood sugar, and obesity, which all lead to heart disease and diabetes. This is information that is vital to our nation’s health.

Heart of Perfect Health is not simply about uncovering the problem of silent inflammation, but more importantly, about the real and accessible solutions we all have to stop silent inflammation and improve heart disease health markers—high cholesterol, high blood pressure and high blood sugar.

We don’t think of the gut when we think of heart disease, though these two areas of the body are indeed linked. My new PBS show details this connection and what we can do to reverse the vicious cycle of silent inflammation for good, and avoid becoming another health statistic.

I have a feeling you’ll be shocked at what is causing your silent inflammation and then delighted with the power you hold to turn it around, starting in your own kitchen.

The Road to Perfect Health: Balance Your Gut, Heal Your Body

So many people in our lives are suffering—waking up every day with problems like poor digestion, fatigue, weight gain, anxiety, joint pain and so much more—but it doesn’t have to be that way. The secret to a healthy body begins with a healthy digestive system, and the information in The Road to Perfect Health will teach you all about what’s going on inside your gut and why it’s so important to keep your digestive system running smoothly.

Join me and together we’ll look at the trillions of good bacteria living inside your gut that help your body absorb nutrients, defend against toxins, fight off illness and disease, and yes, even help with problems like constipation, irritable bowel and other digestive issues. Those good-for-you bacteria are called probiotics, and they’re the key to a strong Gut Protection System—or GPS for short!

Just like the GPS in your car, all those good bacteria in your gut help keep you on the path to better health. But what happens when your GPS isn’t working right? You can get lost, and just like getting lost on the road, we sometimes lose our way on the road to better health and end up stuck in a rut of illness and poor digestion.

I hope you’ll tune in this month to learn the secret to rebuilding your health from the inside out. It’s time to balance your gut and heal your body! Check your local PBS station for dates and times. Visit the station finder  to find local listings in your area.

Air Pollution and Children

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 05/29/2013


Air pollution is a big problem. Increased exposure to air pollution has been linked to so many health conditions, some of which Dr. Smith and I have blogged about in the past. A number of studies have come out recently about the harmful effects of air pollution on children, in particular. Children are at greater risk of exposure to toxins because they are still developing, which makes them more sensitive to toxins.

A recent study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives found that exposure to air pollution in utero or during early life may increase the risk of respiratory tract infections in infants. They found that exposure during the second trimester was slightly stronger than during other trimesters, suggesting the second trimester to be a time when exposure to air pollution is particularly damaging to respiratory health. Further studies of these children will help determine whether exposure to air pollution also increases asthma risk later in life.

That’s not all. Another study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that exposure to traffic-related air pollution during pregnancy and the first year of life is associated with more than double the risk of developing autism. “This work has broad potential public health implications,” stated Heather Volk, PhD, lead investigator of the study. “We’ve known for a long time that air pollution is bad for our lungs, and especially for children. We’re now beginning to understand how air pollution may affect the brain.” She explains that air pollution is made up of tiny particles that trigger inflammation when inhaled. “The components of these particles could be hazardous to the brain,” she stated.

Yet another recent study published in the journal Diabetologia found that levels of insulin resistance were higher in children exposed to higher amounts of air pollution. For example, proximity to the nearest major road increased insulin sensitivity in 10-year-old children by 7% every 500 metres. Whether these children go on to develop metabolic syndrome or type 2 diabetes remains to be seen (the researchers plan to do a follow-up study to track it), but this research is telling.

Toxin exposure, which certainly includes air pollution, is a major, difficult-to-control factor that is affecting our health and the health of our children. Fortunately, I have a small piece of good news—levels of air pollution are declining. What’s more, a recent study published in the journal Epidemiology has found that because of this decline, life expectancy is improving. In 545 counties throughout the country they found that air pollution levels have declined along with increases in life expectancy.

We still have a way to go, however. “Despite the fact that the US population as a whole is exposed to much lower levels of air pollution than 30 years ago—because of great strides made to reduce people’s exposure—it appears that further restrictions in air pollution levels would continue to benefit public health,” stated lead author Andrew Correia, PhD. I’m optimistic that studies like the ones I’ve reported on here will have a positive influence on the implementation of such restrictions. We obviously have a problem that is being addressed, but not quite enough.

Eat Your Greens for Better Gut Health

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 05/27/2013


We all know we’re supposed to eat our greens. Broccoli, kale, collards—these dark green vegetables are part of the cruciferous family, and have been linked to a number of beneficial effects on health. A recent study published in the journal Nature Immunity found that a particular gene (T-bet) controls the development of recently discovered immune cells in the intestinal lining called innate lymphoid cells (ILCs). ILCs are found in the lining of the intestines, and they help protect against harmful bacteria. They are also thought to play an important role in controlling food allergies, inflammatory diseases, and obesity, and may even prevent the development of bowel cancers.

“In this study, we discovered that T-bet is the key gene that instructs precursor cells to develop into ILCs, which it does in response to signals in the food we eat and to bacteria in the gut,” stated Gabrielle Belz, PhD, lead researcher. “ILCs are essential for immune surveillance of the digestive system and this is the first time that we have identified a gene responsible for the production of ILCs.” Green leafy vegetables are known to “turn on” the T-bet gene, so eating your greens may play an important role in maintaining ILC cells for optimal gut health.

ILCs play an important role in maintaining immune balance, which involves, all at once, the right amount of immunity, inflammation, and tolerance of what passes through the gut. “We are just starting to understand how important these immune cells are in regulating allergy and inflammation, and the implications for bowel cancer and other gastrointestinal disorders such as Crohn’s disease,” stated Belz.

Cruciferous vegetables are also important for healthy liver detoxification, helping to support the removal of toxins through the liver. If you don’t eat these nutrient-rich veggies on a regular basis, now you have some great reasons to incorporate them into your diet.

Chemical Exposure during Childhood

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 05/24/2013


Have you ever wondered about what chemicals might be present in the products your children use every day? Do you ever think about what might be in clothing, bedding, accessories, furniture, toys, household items, and personal care items? If you are reading this, you have probable thought about some of these items, but the fact is we still know relatively little about the chemicals we come into contact with every day.

Recent legislation in the state of Washington has set the benchmark for disclosure of what types of products contain potential toxins, even in small amounts. Washington’s Children’s Safe Product Act, enacted in 2008, obligates companies to disclose the use of 66 chemicals complied by US and international agencies, and chosen due to their potential negative health effects, especially in children. “Children are uniquely vulnerable to exposures given their hand-to-mouth behaviors, floor play, and developing nervous and reproductive systems,” stated Sheela Sathyanarayana, MD, a pediatric researcher who advised state officials on the disclosure rules.

The first phase, incorporated last August, required companies with gross annual revenues over $1 million to report chemicals in products that could be put into the mouths of children under 3 years old, and those products that could be put into the mouths or rubbed onto the skin of children under age 12. The second phase, last February, required these companies to report products intended for contact with the skin, such as clothing, jewelry, and bedding.

What this legislation will help to achieve, essentially, is full disclosure of the ingredients used to manufacture products that children come into regular contact with. Some of these ingredients—including cobalt (the most widespread added chemical from the list), ethylene glycol, methyl ethyl ketone, and more—are not on the radar of the public or even of researchers. “Over the years it’s been demonstrated that some of these chemicals are making their way into the bodies of children. We don’t want to wait too long to find out if they cause disease later in life,” stated John Meeker, an associate professor of environmental health who studies the health effects of chemicals at the University of Michigan.

Other states, including New York, Oregon, Connecticut, Vermont, Maine, and Minnesota, are considering similar legislation. This is good news. Fortunately, when even one state makes a fuss like this, the whole country finds out about it and then, little by little, change happens. It may feel like drips out of a faucet, but eventually, our voices are heard. News like this keeps me positive despite all the bad news around us.

On that same note, the Environmental Health Perspectives journal recently reported on the environmental exposure education in the childcare setting. Grassroots-like efforts are underway to educate child care providers about environmental health efforts that reduce chemical exposure in the child care setting. These efforts have been growing, drip by drip, and seem to be paying off. But we still have a way to go. Voluntary programs may not be enough, states Vickie Leonard, who is currently involved in developing a green cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfection toolkit for child care centers.

“I think it’s an environmental justice issue, because parents in the middle and upper classes are much more aware of these issues and tend to push for safer environmental practices and products. They can choose where they place their children; poor families usually cannot. For that reason, it seems you’ve got to legislate basic environmental safety in child care,” says Leonard.

I do believe things are changing, based on what I’ve seen over the last couple decades. The change is slow, but sure. I just hope it’s enough. I like to think it is.

The Omega-3 Controversy Continues

Filed in General | Posted by lsmith on 05/22/2013


Here we go again. Another study that attempts to show omega-3 fish oil supplements are not beneficial for heart health has been published in the major medical journal New England Journal of Medicine. The study appears to be sound from the outside: double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial with over 12,000 participants followed over five years. But when we take a closer look, however, we see that there are some major flaws that question the conclusion drawn from the study, “Our findings provide no evidence of the usefulness of omega-3 fatty acids for preventing cardiovascular death or disease in this population.” Headlines read, “Omega-3 Fails to Prevent Heart Attacks,” “Fish Oil Supplements May Not Prevent Heart Trouble,” and “Study Questions Omega-3 Benefits.”

The study involved over 12,000 participants with multiple cardiovascular risk factors who received either 1 gram of fish oil daily containing 850 mg of EPA and DHA (the two fatty acids most known for heart health benefits) or placebo. Similar to previous studies that claimed omega-3 supplementation was not beneficial for heart health, the dosage used in this study is low. Could it be that participants did not get enough fish oil? It certainly could.

But the plot thickens. The placebo used in the study consisted of a softgel filled with olive oil. What do we know about olive oil? It’s beneficial for heart health. The olive oil may have exerted some benefits of its own, making it more difficult to detect a beneficial effect of fish oil over olive oil. Yet another factor that calls the results into question is the fact that the study was done in Italy. What diet do Italians eat? I would think many eat a Mediterranean diet (which includes plenty of olive oil), well known to be beneficial for heart health.

Could these factors have contributed to the unexpected lower rates of death from heart-related events found in both placebo and omega-3 groups? They sure could. In fact, this finding led to a revision of the study protocol that changed the primary endpoint of the study, or the main measure they were taking to determine efficacy of the omega-3 treatment. Instead of looking at cumulative death rate, nonfatal heart attack rate, and nonfatal stroke rate, instead they looked at the time between cardiovascular events and eventual death or hospitalization. When they did this, they were unable to find—not surprisingly—a difference between the group receiving the omega-3 supplement and the group receiving olive oil placebo.

I also want to add, as I have in the past, that it is crucial to measure the Omega-3 Index, or the level of omega-3 fatty acids in red blood cell membranes, as a way to know that the omega-3s are being taken by participants and being absorbed and incorporated into the body’s tissues. The researchers failed to take this measure, so we cannot know if participants received enough omega-3.

Before you have second thoughts about taking omega-3 fish oil, make sure you know the whole story. Studies like these are greatly misleading, despite their prominence. I don’t buy it, and neither should you.

 

References

  1. M.C. Roncaglioni, et al., “n-3 fatty acids in patients with multiple cardiovascular risk factors.” N Engl J Med. 2013 May 9;368(19):1800-8.

The Sugar-Leads-to-Diabetes Myth Debunked

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 05/20/2013


For some—let me add crazy—reason the concept that sugar leads to type 2 diabetes has long been controversial. I suspect the food industry (which pushes a whole lot of sugar!) is partly responsible for perpetuating this myth, but it looks like we may be able to finally put it to rest. A recent study published in the Public Library of Science ONE journal found that dietary sugar leads to diabetes even in perfectly healthy people.

The researchers examined data from 175 countries over ten years. They found that increased sugar in the food supply was linked to higher diabetes rates, independent of a number of factors also known to be linked to diabetes, especially obesity. “We’re not diminishing the importance of obesity at all, but these data suggest that at a population level there are additional factors that contribute to diabetes risk besides obesity and total calorie intake, and that sugar appears to play a prominent role.”

In the study, more sugar was linked to more diabetes. For each additional 150 calories of sugar (the amount found in one 12-counce can of soda) consumed per person daily, the prevalence of diabetes in the entire population increased by one percent, even after controlling for obesity, physical activity, calories from different foods (as an example, 150 calories of any type of food only raised diabetes prevalence by 0.1%—ten times less than sugar), as well as economic and social factors. A calorie is not just a calorie, despite what we have long been taught.

This study was an epidemiogical study, which determines associations rather than proves causation. But this study was very well designed and strongly suggests that sugar does, indeed, cause diabetes. “In medicine, we rely on the postulates of Sir Austin Bradford Hill to examine associations to infer causation, as we did with smoking. You expose the subject to an agent, you get a disease; you take the agent away, the disease gets better; you re-expose and the disease gets worse again. This study satisfies those criteria, and places sugar front and center,” stated lead researcher Robert Lustig, MD.

Finally the sugar debate may be coming to an end. “This has been a source of controversy forever. It’s been very, very difficult to separate sugar from the calories it provides. This work is carefully done, it’s interesting, and it deserves attention,” said Marion Nestle, PhD, a nutrition professor at New York University who was not involved in the study.

Listen folks, sugar breaks down into glucose and fructose. Glucose gets into the bloodstream and raises blood sugar levels. Fructose is processed in the liver and can trigger insulin resistance. When sugar is constantly consumed in excess amounts, it leads to diabetes or at least prediabetes (which affects 79 million people in the United States, many of them unaware of it).

In my mind, and in the mind of many experts, there is no question. Sugar has got to go. Dr. Nestle agrees, “How much circumstantial evidence do you need before you take action? At this point we have enough circumstantial evidence to advise people to keep their sugar a lot lower than it normally is.” Now let’s hope everyone hears this message.

Study Finds Omega-3 Fish Oil May Protect Against Skin Cancer

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 05/17/2013


I recommend omega-3 fish oil for everyone. It’s one of those nutrients that we simply don’t get enough of in the diet, and the studies in support of its health benefits outnumber any other supplement. While most of the studies in support of omega-3 are focused on heart health or brain health, the benefits of these oils reach far beyond heart and brain. Simply type “omega-3” into the search box of my blog and you will find page upon page of information about these healthy fats—and that is just the tip of the iceberg.

A new study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition is taking fish oil benefits to the next level. The study investigated the effect of omega-3 EPA and DHA on skin immunity to sunlight in 79 healthy people. The researchers found that people who took 5 grams of fish oil containing 3.5 grams EPA and 0.5 grams DHA for 30 days experienced 50 percent lower immune suppression when exposed to the equivalent of up to 15 minutes of sunlight on three consecutive days when compared to people who had taken only a placebo.

What that means is that the skin of people who had taken fish oil was more protected against the process of skin cancer development. The results were small, however, and it’s important to note that protection was not found when people were exposed to 30 minutes of sunlight. Most people stay out in the sun longer than 30 minutes. Also, this was a high fish oil dosage, more than the usual daily dosage of fish oil.

While the results of this study are interesting, we’ll need to see more studies to fully understand fish oil’s role in skin cancer protection. In the meantime, keep taking your omega-3 fish oil, and wear sunblock if you plan to be out in the sun for more than a few minutes. I’ll keep you posted when more studies emerge on this topic.

Prenatal DHA Linked to Decreased Premature Birth and Low Birth Weight

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 05/15/2013


The omega-3 fatty acid DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) is most concentrated in the brain. This nutrient is well known to be important for brain development of infants. DHA is most rapidly accumulated in the brain during pregnancy, which is why prenatal DHA intake is widely recommended.

Despite these recommendations, however, American women are not getting enough. “US women typically consume less DHA than women in most of the developed world,” stated Susan Carlson, PhD, who directed a study that found infants born to women who took 600 mg DHA supplementation during the second half of pregnancy weighed more and were less likely to be very low birth weight and born before 34 weeks gestation when compared to infants born of women who took placebo.

“A reduction in early preterm and very low birth weight delivery could have clear clinical and public health significance,” Carlson stated. “We believe that supplementing US women with DHA could safely increase mean birth weight and gestational age to numbers that are closer to other developed countries such as Norway and Australia.”

The study will continue to follow the children to determine if prenatal DHA supplementation will affect children’s intelligence and school readiness. This study adds to similar studies, some of which Dr. Smith and I have blogged on. In all, we definitely recommend prenatal DHA supplementation for infant development.

No Link between Eggs and Heart Disease—Shocked?

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 05/13/2013


I was pleased to learn about a recent meta-analysis published in the British Medical Journal that will hopefully put to rest one of the biggest diet myths—that eggs are bad for your heart. The analysis analyzed data from eight clinical studies involving almost half a million people, and found no association between high egg consumption and risk of heart disease or stroke.

Yes, eggs contain cholesterol. But you know what? Cholesterol is a crucial component that serves a number of functions in the body, including hormone production, nervous system protection, and bile production, which benefits digestion. Cholesterol is found in every cell in your body.

Many people are under the impression that a diet high in cholesterol raises cholesterol levels. You may have been told to not eat eggs every morning as a way of controlling cholesterol levels. This notion is mistaken.

Cholesterol is obtained two ways: The body produces cholesterol (much of it in the liver), and cholesterol is absorbed from the small intestines, either from food or from bile salts passing through the intestine from the gallbladder. To balance out the production and absorption of cholesterol, the body constantly uses cholesterol to produce hormones and to maintain the integrity of cell membranes.

The body also gets rid of some cholesterol through the production of bile salts in the liver. Bile salts, made of cholesterol and other steroid acids bound to sodium, are sent from the liver to the gallbladder, where they are held until needed for digestion of fat. When you eat a fatty meal, bile is secreted into the small intestine from the gallbladder, and lipase is secreted into the small intestine by the pancreas, both to help break down fat. In this way, some cholesterol is excreted from the body with intestinal waste, and some of this cholesterol is reabsorbed into the bloodstream so that it can be reused.

Although some cholesterol is absorbed from food, dietary cholesterol has little impact on blood cholesterol levels. This is because the body’s process of cholesterol recycling is regulated in such a way that when there is an increase in cholesterol from the diet, the body will make less. Conversely, if there is not enough cholesterol taken in from food, the body will make more cholesterol to compensate. Because of this cholesterol recycling process, dietary cholesterol intake contributes less to blood cholesterol levels than we are led to believe.

“Since eggs are a major source of dietary cholesterol, with one large egg containing almost 210 mg of cholesterol, the public has been recommended to limit egg consumption unless the intake of other foods high in cholesterol is restricted,” stated lead researcher Liegang Liu. “However, eggs are also an inexpensive and low-calorie source of many other nutrients, including minerals, proteins, and unsaturated fatty acids, which could lower the risk of cardiovascular disease.”

In their study, consumption of up to one egg per day was not associated with heart disease or stroke risk. However, people with higher egg intake and diabetes may be at higher risk, based on a small number of studies analyzed. Restricting egg intake may be prudent in people with diabetes until we know more.

For more information about factors that contribute to heart disease, watch my PBS special Heart of Perfect Health.

Beet Juice for Blood Pressure

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 05/10/2013


High blood pressure is a common condition affecting 1 in 3 adults in the United States. Many people have high blood pressure for years without even knowing it. That’s why it’s called the silent killer. High blood pressure is one of the signs that you have silent inflammation—the underlying feature of most, if not all, chronic disease. High blood pressure damages the artery lining over time, eventually leading to atherosclerosis, or the buildup of plaque in the arteries, the characteristic of coronary heart disease.

A particular chemical produced in the body, nitric oxide, plays an important role in dilating blood vessels, which has the direct effect of lowering blood pressure. Nitric oxide can be increased in the bloodstream by eating foods such as chocolate, beetroot juice, leafy greens, and watermelon. In a recent study published in the journal Hypertension, 8 ounces of beetroot juice was found to lower blood pressure by about 10 mm Hg after about three hours, and blood pressure remained decreased even up to 24 hours later.

The beetroot juice contained a small amount of nitrate (the equivalent of that found in two beets), which converts in the body into nitrite, and then nitric oxide, the blood vessel dilator. “We were surprised by how little nitrate was needed to see such a large effect,” stated Amrita Ahluwalia, PhD, lead researcher. “This study shows that compared to individuals with healthy blood pressure, much less nitrate is needed to produce the kinds of decreases in blood pressure that might provide clinical benefits in people who need to lower their blood pressure.”

I am a big promoter of vegetable juicing. Adding beets to vegetable juice is a great way to add nutrients to your diet. Now we know it’s a great way to help lower blood pressure, too.