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    • 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 .

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Interesting Benefit of Sunshine (It’s Not What You Think)

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 06/28/2013


When we hear recommendations to get more sunshine, it’s usually because the right sunshine exposure will help your body produce vitamin D, a vitamin that seems to have endless benefits when it comes to total-body health. But I’m not talking about vitamin D today. As it turns out, you may still need some sun even if you are taking a vitamin D supplement.

A recent study by researchers at the University of Edinburgh found that exposure to UV rays for 20 minutes resulted in a drop in blood pressure for the following hour when compared to exposure to only heat. But vitamin D levels did not change. Instead, nitric oxide is thought to be increased. Nitric oxide is an important blood vessel–dilating compound naturally produced in the body (and also obtained through the diet).

More research is needed to determine how much sun exposure provides benefit, and this needs to be weighed against skin cancer risk, of course. Heart disease and stroke linked to high blood pressure lead to around 80 times more deaths than does skin cancer, however. “We now plan to look at the relative risks of heart disease and skin cancer in people who have received different amounts of sun exposure. If this confirms that sunlight reduces the death rate from all causes, we will need to reconsider our advice on sun exposure,” stated Dr. Richard Weller, Senior Lecturer in Dermatology at the University of Edinburgh.

This summer, get a little sun on your skin. Spend just a few minutes a few times a week in the sun with adequate skin exposure.

Fish Oil Curbs Harmful Effects of Mental Stress

Filed in General | Posted by lsmith on 06/26/2013


For many people who experience mental stress, the body responds by raising heart rate and blood pressure, as well as increasing nerve activity of muscles. This phenomenon is believed to be one way in which stress leads to high blood pressure, which has implications for heart disease development.

These days, most people experience mental stress on a regular basis, which may help to explain why heart disease is still the number one cause of death. A recent study published in the American Journal of Physiology—Regulatory, Integrative, and Comparative Physiology sheds some light on how omega-3 fish oil might help to reduce these negative effects of mental stress.1

The researchers found that supplementation of 1.6 grams EPA and 1.1 grams of DHA daily for eight weeks reduced heart rate and muscle sympathetic nerve activity induced by mental stress in people with normal blood pressure when compared to those taking placebo. “Overall, the data support and extend the growing evidence that fish oil may have positive health benefits regarding neural cardiovascular control in humans and suggest important physiological interactions between fish oil and psychological stress that may contribute to disease etiology,” they stated.

They also expected to see a lowering of blood pressure, but did not. They offered the short duration of the study, younger age, and normal blood pressure of the participants as an explanation for not seeing this effect.

Harry Rice, VP of regulatory and scientific affairs for the Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3s (GOED), commented on the study: “The present research suggests that fish oil intake may blunt the ability of mental stress to create chaos with one’s physical health. To the extent that the results can be extrapolated further downstream, this could mean the attenuation of disease initiation or progression.”

This study builds on previous evidence for fish oil’s protective effect against mental stress. Fish oil has also been found to inhibit adrenal activation induced by mental stress in a study published in Diabetes Metabolism in 2003.2 The adrenals secrete a variety of chemicals in response to stress. This study found that fish oil reduced the secretion of adrenaline (epinephrine) and cortisol (the stress hormone) in response to mental stress.

Since we all experience mental stress on a regular basis, fish oil offers a great way to help curb its harmful effects. This is one of many benefits of omega-3 EPA and DHA fatty acids. By addressing the precursors to chronic disease, such as the negative effects of stress, we can help to avoid later progression to chronic poor health.

 

References

  1. Carter JR, Schwartz CE, Yang H, et al., “Fish oil and neurovascular reactivity to mental stress in humans.” Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol. 2013 Apr 1;304(7):R523-30.
  2. Delarue J, Matzinger O, Binnert C, et al., “Fish oil prevents the adrenal activation elicited by mental stress in healthy men.” Diabetes Metab. 2003 Jun;29(3):289-95.

Heavy Metals in Your Lipstick

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 06/24/2013


Here we go again. Not only does lipstick contain lead, which I have reported on a couple times, but a new study by researchers at the University of California-Berkeley’s School of Public Health tested 32 commonly sold lipsticks and lip glosses and found they contain lead, cadmium, chromium, aluminum, and five other metals.

Not all the metals were at levels considered to be toxic (by the US government anyway, which isn’t saying much), but for the average user—who is considered to apply lipstick about 2 times daily—certain lipsticks could expose users to excessive amounts of chromium, and high use—considered to be as many as 14 times daily—could cause overexposure to aluminum, cadmium, and manganese. Lead levels were not as high in these tests, and I wonder if it’s because manufacturers specifically reduced lead after the previous media exposure about high lead in lipsticks.

“I don’t think people should panic,” stated S. Katharine Hammond, lead researcher. “But if you use it several times every day, you may want to think about it.” Her advice is to use lipstick less.

There are no US standards for metal levels in cosmetics. Compare that to the European Union, who does not accept cadmium, chromium, or lead at any level in cosmetics. Oh, we have a long way to go. In the meantime, next time you are deciding whether to wear makeup or go au natural, you know what to do.

Flame Retardants Linked to Lower Intelligence and Hyperactivity in Children

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 06/21/2013


Flame retardants are one category of toxins that really baffle me. Let me get it straight—we want to reduce the likelihood that our furniture, bedding, carpets, cribs and children’s pajamas catch on fire, but we need to spray these items with toxic chemicals that leach off over time in order to do so. Now, I do not mean in any way to minimize the danger of house fires because I know they can be tragic, but the odds of a house fire occurring against the odds of small children ingesting these toxic chemicals on a daily basis and ending up with cognitive deficits and hyperactivity (and who knows what else they may find before it’s all said and done) seem to be slim.

A recent study presented at the Pediatric Academic Societies annual meeting found that prenatal exposure to flame retardants is linked to lower intelligence and hyperactivity during early childhood. “We found that maternal exposure to PBDEs, a group of brominated flame retardants mostly withdrawn from the US market in 2004 was associated with deficits in child cognition at age 5 years and hyperactivity at ages 2 to 5 years,” stated lead researcher Aimim Chen, MD, PhD. “Our study adds to several other human studies to highlight the need to reduce exposure to PBDEs in pregnant women.”

Although PBDEs have been banned, they remain in old furniture, upholstery, carpeting, mattresses, electronics, and similar items. These chemicals break down slowly, so our exposure to them remains high, and once in the body they tend to remain for long periods of time. This study adds flame retardants to the ever-growing list of chemicals that have been linked to lower IQ in children.

Flame retardant exposure has been linked to a number of negative health effects. Some states are trying to ban other flame retardants that have replaced the PBDEs (and that are considered to be just as harmful as the previous flame retardants). I hope legislators move quickly on these regulations. Our health is on the line.

High Carb Intake during Infancy

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 06/19/2013


The Standard American Diet (SAD) is notably a high-carbohydrate diet (among its many other unhealthy features), which is a big reason why I advocate against this diet. Many people are reducing carbohydrate intake from sugars and starchy foods such as breads, pastas, and cereals. But are we taking a close enough look at infant diets? A recent study published in the American Journal of Physiology found, in an animal model, that a high-carbohydrate diet during infancy leads to increased insulin levels that would predispose the child to develop obesity later in life.

“Many American baby foods and juices are high in carbohydrates, mainly simple sugars,” stated Mulchand Patel, PhD, lead researcher of the study. “Our hypothesis has been that the introduction of baby foods too early in life increases carbohydrate intake, thereby boosting insulin secretion and causing metabolic programming that, in turn, predisposes the child to obesity later in life.”

“During this critical period, the hypothalamus, which regulates appetite, becomes programmed to drive the individual to eat more food,” stated Patel. To avoid this reprogramming, he recommends that solid foods should not be given to infants before 4 to 6 months of age.

Let me emphasize that I am not recommending a low-carbohydrate diet for infants. But added sugars are certainly not necessary. There is no good reason to add sugars to infant foods. And introduction of solid foods should not come too early, as these researchers note. But more studies will be needed to determine the effects of diet at such a young age.

Vitamin D and Diabetes Risk in Obese Children

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 06/17/2013


Childhood obesity is one of the greatest health challenges in today’s world. Over one third of children and adolescents are obese or overweight according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The obesity rate has more than doubled in children and tripled in adolescents in the past 30 years. Obese children are at increased risk of having prediabetes, heart disease risk factors like high cholesterol and high blood pressure, and bone and joint problems—all at such a young age.

That’s not all—obese children and adolescents are more likely to be obese adults, with the accompanying increased risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, cancer, and osteoarthritis. The Standard American Diet (SAD) is largely to blame for the childhood obesity epidemic, but that’s a topic for another day. Today I want to mention the results of a recent study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Researchers from the University of Missouri found that vitamin D supplements given to obese children with deficient or insufficient vitamin D levels helped control blood sugar by lowering insulin levels.

“By increasing vitamin D intake alone, we got a response that was nearly as powerful as what we have seen using a prescription drug,” noted Catherine Pearson, PhD, lead researcher. “We saw a decrease in insulin levels, which means better glucose control, despite no changes in body weight, dietary intake, or physical activity.” The study emphasized the importance of checking vitamin D levels, since they can vary.

“What makes vitamin D insufficiency different in obese individuals is that they process vitamin D about half as efficiently as normal-weight people,” stated Peterson. “The vitamin gets stored in their fat tissues, which keeps it from being processed. This means obese individuals need to take in about twice as much vitamin D as their lean peers to maintain sufficient levels of vitamin D.” That’s interesting—being overweight can affect your vitamin D levels. It’s an important fact that is now well known.

Vitamin D is crucial to our overall health—children, adults, and elderly alike. If you haven’t had your vitamin D levels—and those of your children—tested, I suggest you do so.

Don’t Dwell on It

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 06/14/2013


Just as it is important to attain—and maintain—physical health, we also need to work on our mental health. After all, each is related to the other. When one is out of balance, the other is affected. Just think about what happens when you are not well—it affects your emotions and thought processes, right? Well the same thing happens when you are under stress—emotionally or mentally. Your physical health suffers. It’s a vicious cycle.

In a recent study presented at the annual meeting of the American Psychosomatic Society, researchers found that women who dwelled on stressful thoughts had increased levels of C-reactive protein (CRP, a marker of inflammation) in the blood when compared to women who focused on neutral thoughts.

“More and more, chronic inflammation is being associated with various disorders and conditions,” stated Peggy Zoccola, PhD, lead researcher. “The immune system plays an important role in various cardiovascular disorders such as heart disease, as well as cancer, dementia, and autoimmune diseases.”

Have you ever replayed a bad situation in your head, over and over, until you ended up a worried mess? Or do you ever have trouble shaking a negative interaction between you and someone else? You’re certainly not alone, but hopefully this research will inspire you to “let it go” more often. Your health depends on it.

Fish Oil Blood Sugar Benefits

Filed in General | Posted by lsmith on 06/12/2013


We now know that fat tissue is not simply a storage unit for fat, but is considered to be an organ in its own right. Fat tissue, or adipose tissue, has hormonal, metabolic, and inflammatory functions that play a role in many different areas of health and disease. The fat cell, or adipocyte, secretes a number of proteins including adiponectin, a protein that exerts potent insulin-sensitizing and anti-inflammatory effects.

Insulin sensitivity is the condition in which insulin is able to function as the “key” that opens the “door” of the cell so that glucose in the blood moves from the blood into the cell, thereby helping to stabilize blood sugar. You want your cells to be insulin sensitive rather than insulin resistant. Adiponectin helps your cells become and remain insulin sensitive.

High circulating levels of adiponectin are associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes and coronary heart disease.1,2 Experimental studies have found that omega-3 consumption increases circulating levels of adiponectin, but until recently, this had not been confirmed in humans. In a recent systematic review and meta-analysis published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, researchers reviewed 14 randomized controlled trials and found that fish oil supplementation significantly increased circulating adiponectin levels.3

This research supports the beneficial effects of fish oil in humans, building on previous experimental studies. “Our findings provide support that these pathways identified in vitro and in vivo may have functional relevance to effects of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids on adipocyte levels in humans,” stated the researchers. “These findings support potential beneficial effects of fish oil supplementation on pathways related to adipocyte health and adiponectin metabolism.” Fish oil dosage in the studies ranged from 700 mg to 2 grams daily.

You can also increase adiponectin with exercise and a high-fiber diet rich in vegetables and low-sugar fruit, healthy fats, lean proteins, nuts, and seeds, all healthy lifestyle factors Brenda and I have been promoting from the beginning.

 

References

  1. Li S, Shin HJ, Ding EL, et al., “Adiponectin levels and risk of type 2 diabetes: a systematic review and meta-analysis.” JAMA. 2009 Jul 8;302(2):179-88.
  2. Sattar N, Wannamethee G, Sarwar N, et al., “Adiponectin and coronary heart disease: a prospective study and meta-analysis.” Circulation. 2006 Aug 15;114(7):623-9.
  3. Wu JHY, Cahill LE, and Mozaffarian D, “Effect of fish oil on circulating adiponectin: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials.” J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2013 epub ahead of print. doi: 10.1210/jc.2012-3899.

LDL Cholesterol Levels Not Giving an Accurate Picture of Heart Health

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 06/10/2013


The cholesterol story is getting interesting. It used to be that “high cholesterol”—meaning high total cholesterol—caused people to worry about heart health. Then they realized it was more important to look a little closer at the two types of cholesterol—the “good” and “bad” cholesterol, which actually refers to the carriers of the cholesterol rather than the cholesterol itself. LDL cholesterol is considered bad, and HDL is considered good. High LDL cholesterol levels and/or low HDL cholesterol levels are considered risks for heart disease.

Or so we thought.

What most people do not realize is that LDL cholesterol is not measured. It is simply calculated based on other measured levels. This calculation, known as the Friedwald calculation, came about because it is much less work (read: less expensive) to calculate rather than measure. The calculation uses total cholesterol, HDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels to determine LDL. So when your doctor tells you that your LDL cholesterol is high, borderline, or even low, remember that this is only a rough estimate.

A recent study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology is shedding some light on this topic. “In our study, we compared samples assessed using the Friedwald equation with a direct calculation of the LDL cholesterol. We found that in nearly one out of four samples in the ‘desirable’ range for people with a higher heart disease risk, the Friedwald calculation had it wrong,” stated lead researcher Seth Martin, MD.

Some people with Friedwald-calculated LDL levels thought to be protective of heart health were actually at higher risk. This was true particularly in people who also had high triglyceride levels. The researchers suggest looking at “non-HDL” levels, which includes LDL as well as VLDL and IDL levels. Non-HDL levels can be found on the standard blood tests, and so are suggested as a more accurate, yet cost-effective, marker of heart health.

These researchers are headed in the right direction. However, what we really need to be looking at is the state in which the LDL particles are in. Particle size, particle number, and LDL oxidation levels give an even more accurate view of what is really happening in the arteries when it comes to cholesterol. I cover this concept more extensively in my book, Heart of Perfect Health, which is available through my PBS show of the same name. Integrative and functional medicine doctors are familiar with these cholesterol tests. You can find one here: http://www.acam.org or http://www.functionalmedicine.org

Gut Health, Bone Health

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 06/07/2013


Our understanding of the gut connection to overall health is always expanding. From the gut-brain and gut-skin connection to the gut-joint and gut-immune connection, it’s obvious that gut health is crucial for overall health. A new study published in the Journal of Cellular Physiology is helping to solidify yet another gut connection: the gut-bone connection. Using an animal model, the researchers found that the probiotic Lactobacillus reuteri enhanced bone density in males, but not females, after four weeks.

“We know that inflammation in the gut can cause bone loss, though it’s unclear exactly why,” noted lead researcher Laura McCabe, PhD. “The neat thing we found is that a probiotic can enhance bone density.” More studies are needed to determine whether this probiotic has the same effect in humans, but it provides a great starting point. We already have so many amazing examples of how probiotics affect many different areas of health.

“Through food fermentation, we’ve been eating bacteria that we classify as probiotics for thousands of years,” stated Robert Britton, PhD, another researcher. “There’s evidence that this bacterium as a species has co-evolved with humans. It’s indigenous to our intestinal tracts and is something that, if missing, might cause problems.”

Could an optimal gut balance be the answer to osteoporosis, a condition that involves the thinning and weakening of bones? Current drug treatments for this condition modify the bone remodeling process in a way that can actually make bones prone to breaking. Perhaps one day we will look to our digestive tracts to help us improve bone health. The gut is certainly where I recommend we begin any health journey.