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      The stats tell it all: The number one cause of death in the United States is heart disease. That’s right, more than any other disease – even cancer (a close second) – heart disease is the most likely to kill you. The United States is currently facing a “diabesity” epidemic, or a substantial increase in the prevalence of metabolic syndrome leading to diabetes and obesity, all serious risk factors for heart disease.

      According to the American Heart Association, every 34 seconds someone in the US dies of a heart attack. By the time you finish reading this paragraph, another person will have lost their life. Sadly, many people do not even know they have heart disease until they experience a heart attack. These facts alone make Heart Health a critical topic to understand.

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      The gut-skin connection is very significant. Inflammatory processes present in the gut may manifest on the skin. Toxins are expelled with sweat, and can cause the skin to react. Like the inside of the digestive tract, the skin is covered in microbes which can be neutral, protective or pathogenic. Skin reaction may reflect what is going on inside the body. Therefore treating skin conditions only from the outside will often be ineffective and lead to other chronic issues.

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    • 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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Sucralose (Splenda®) Raises Blood Sugar and Insulin

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 07/31/2013


Many people try to cut back their sugar intake by replacing sugar with artificial sweeteners such as aspartame (NutraSweet®) and sucralose (Splenda®), sweet-flavored chemicals that do not introduce sugar into the blood stream (and thus, should not raise blood sugar levels). Doctors widely recommend these sweeteners as a way to help control calorie intake and reduce sugar intake. You may be surprised—and taken aback—to learn that sucralose actually raises blood sugar.

A recent study published in the journal Diabetes Care calls into question the use of sucralose as a sugar substitute in people concerned about blood sugar levels. In the study, 17 severely obese participants were given either water or sucralose to drink before consuming a glucose challenge test—about 75 grams of glucose—to mimic a sugar-containing meal. Blood sugar levels of those participants drinking sucralose rose higher than those drinking only water.

“Insulin levels also rose about 20 percent higher. So the artificial sweetener was related to an enhanced blood insulin and glucose response,” stated M. Yanina Pepino, PhD, lead researcher of the study. “We wanted to study this population because these sweeteners frequently are recommended to them as a way to make their diets healthier by limiting calorie intake.”

She went on to explain that most studies on artificial sweeteners involved healthy, lean individuals, with the artificial sweetener given alone. But the reality is that many people consuming these sweeteners are not healthy, and they are eating the sweeteners along with others foods, often sugar-containing foods. “In obese people without diabetes, we have shown sucralose is more than just something sweet that you put into your mouth with no other consequences.”

More studies are needed to determine whether the blood sugar insulin effects contribute to long-term blood sugar control. Certainly this study is an eye-opener. I don’t recommend artificial sweeteners because they are man-made chemicals that we simply don’t know enough about. There are many natural sugar alternatives available. Choose lo han, stevia, erythritol, xylitol, or any of the natural options you prefer.

Lectin-Restricted Diet plus Antioxidant Supplements Reverses Artery Damage

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 07/29/2013


Lectins are carbohydrate-binding proteins found in foods such as grains, beans, seeds, nuts, and potatoes. Also, grain-fed meats (which would be all meats except grass-fed) contain lectins due to their grain-based feed. Lectins, although found in what many people consider “healthy” foods, are known to have detrimental effects, including gastrointestinal and immune dysfunction, and the triggering of leptin resistance, implicated in obesity.

Dr. William Davis talks extensively about the negative effects of lectins found in wheat in his excellent book Wheat Belly. (If you are not familiar with his book, I highly recommend it.) I interviewed him in my last book, Heart of Perfect Health. He really knows what he’s talking about.

A recent study presented at the American Heart Association’s 2013 Scientific Sessions found that a lectin- and nightshade-restricted diet (nightshades are in the tomato, potato, and pepper family) plus supplements containing the antioxidant polyphenol from fish oil, grape seed extract, and vitamins improved blood vessel function in older people who had risk factors for artery disease.

“These findings represent a fundamental paradigm shift in how the diseases of the ‘Western Diet’ should be treated,” stated Steven Gundry, MD. “Simple removal of ‘healthy’ lectin-containing foods, and taking a few inexpensive supplements, may restore endothelial function to normal, which in turn can reverse high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity.”

Of course, the American Heart Association stated that people shouldn’t remove tomatoes or other healthy foods from their diet. They have to remain conservative, of course. Some people find a good deal of relief when restricting these foods, especially when restricting grains. Care must be taken to replace lectin-containing foods with plenty of leafy greens, vegetables, seafood, grass-fed animal proteins, and healthy fats.

Omega-3 Lessens Damage of Junk Food on the Brain

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 07/26/2013


A diet high in saturated fat and refined sugars is known to disrupt the development of nerves in the brain, which can negatively impact brain health. In a recent study published in the British Journal of Nutrition, researchers reviewed 185 studies from around the world to determine whether omega-3 fatty acids had a protective effect against weight loss by reducing damage to the brain.

“Excessive intake of certain macronutrients, the refined sugars and saturated fats found in junk food, can lead to weight gain, disrupt metabolism, and even affect mental processing,” noted Lucy Pickavance, PhD, lead researcher. “Research, however, has suggested that omega-3 fish oils can reverse or even prevent these effects. We wanted to investigate the literature on this topic to determine whether there is evidence to suggest that omega-3s might aid weight loss by stimulating particular brain processes.”

While they didn’t find a direct effect on weight loss, they did find an indirect effect. “Fish oils don’t appear to have a direct impact on weight loss, but they may take the brakes off the detrimental effects of some of the processes triggered in the brain by high-fat diets,” she continued. “They seem to mimic the effects of calorie restrictive diets and including more oily fish or fish oil supplements in our diets could certainly be a positive step forward for those wanting to improve their general health.”

There is no doubt that omega-3 fish oil has a wide range of beneficial health effects. And lately I’ve seen a lot of evidence that omega-3s help blunt the effects of unhealthy habits. Let’s be clear that I’m not suggesting you follow your junk food binge with some fish oil. Fish oil won’t cancel out your bad habits. Instead, fish oil will help you undo the damage you’ve done, and hopefully help inspire you to live healthier, cleaner, and happier.

Fish Oil and Prostate Cancer – The Whole Story

Filed in General | Posted by lsmith on 07/24/2013


It seems the misinformation about fish oil supplementation has reached a new (low) level. You may have read the recent media headlines purporting that fish oil supplements increase the risk of prostate cancer. Once again, they have it wrong, and this time, terribly so. Let’s take a look at the whole story.

The study in reference1 was a case-controlled study nested within another study—SELECT (the Selenium and Vitamin E Cancer Prevention Trial).2 The SELECT trial tested whether selenium and vitamin E, either alone or combined, reduced prostate cancer risk. You might notice this trial had nothing to do with omega-3 intake. The researchers chose this group of people because they were already being evaluated for prostate cancer risk, but a main flaw of this study is that it was not designed to evaluate the relationship between omega-3 fatty acid levels and prostate cancer. Thus, the results are less reliable.

The researchers evaluated 834 men diagnosed with prostate cancer and 1393 randomly selected matches from the SELECT trial. They analyzed baseline plasma fatty acid levels of the participants and found a 71 percent increased risk of high-grade prostate cancer and a 43 percent increase in risk for all prostate cancers in those participants with the highest concentrations of plasma EPA, DHA, and DPA.

Plasma fatty acid levels, however, only reflect the past 24 to 48 hours of dietary intake of fatty acids. The study did not assess dietary intake, via food or supplements, of fatty acids, however. The difference in omega-3 fatty acid levels between those who developed prostate cancer and those who did not was 0.2%. According to Duffy McKay, vice president of scientific affairs at the Council for Responsible Nutrition, “This change literally could have occurred if somebody ate a fish sandwich on their way to get their blood drawn.”

Without monitoring dietary and supplemental omega-3 intake, we don’t know how much fish or fish oil these patients were really taking—if they were taking any at all. Another possibility, the patients with cancer may have begun taking fish oil after they were diagnosed because they were trying to get healthy. The researchers simply did not control for these possibilities.

Even more importantly, without measuring red blood cell (RBC) fatty acid levels of omega-3s, which most accurately reflect long-term intake of omega-3s as well as incorporation of the omega-3s into tissues, we do not have an accurate picture of what is really happening. This is a common and fundamentally detrimental mistake when studying the health effects of omega-3 fatty acids, as I often mention.

An essential and metabolic fats RBC membrane test is available from several companies including HDL Labs, Genova/Metametrix, and Doctor’s Data. These are very thorough tests which are only obtained through a practitioner’s office and usually are covered by insurance. The simplest, least costly way to know your total body fatty acid balance is to obtain a do-it-yourself, at-home, finger-stick blood test from OmegaQuant.com or LabTestingDirect.com.

These tests give a good approximation of the levels of total omega-3 and omega-6, as well as a comprehensive list of individual fatty acids over about a three-month period. (Red blood cells live for three to four months.) The most significant test may well be the Omega-3 Index which measures the EPA + DHA levels compared to the total fatty acid levels in the red blood cell membrane. An Omega-3 Index under 4 percent indicates the person would need to take 1 to 3 grams of EPA + DHA daily. If the Omega-3 Index is over 8 to 10 percent, the person’s omega-3 intake is probably fine unless a significant inflammatory condition is present, in which case the Omega-3 Index could go higher under the care of a practitioner.

Those who choose to do research in the area of essential omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids would be wise to measure something more meaningful than a random single omega-3 blood plasma test. It is important to remember that this study found an association—a link. Yet an association does not prove causation. The way to strengthen association studies is to do a good job controlling for confounding factors. Unfortunately, these researchers failed to correctly control for such factors, as noted in a statement by Robert Roundtree, MD:

  • 53 percent of the subjects with prostate cancer were smokers;
  • 64 percent of the cancer subjects regularly consumed alcohol;
  • 30 percent of the cancer subjects had at least one first-degree relative with prostate cancer;
  • 80 percent of the cancer subjects were overweight or obese.

The researchers even note in their introduction that obesity is associated with increased inflammation and higher risks of high-grade prostate cancer and prostate cancer death. Why did they not control for this factor? It’s a good question.

Further evidence to the weakness of the suggestions in this study lies in the many studies that were actually designed to find a link between omega-3 intake and prostate cancer. In one major review and meta-analysis, although they were unable to find an association between fish consumption and reduced prostate cancer, they did find a 63 percent reduction in prostate cancer-specific death in those with the greatest consumption of fish.3 In one of the best-designed studies of this meta-analysis, as noted by Dr. Michael Murray, ND, high levels of EPA + DHA (as measured in red blood cell membranes) were associated with a 40 percent reduced risk of prostate cancer.4

I spoke with William Harris, PhD, a prominent omega-3 researcher, today and he has kindly offered a link to his blog. He has added several other interesting points on why the connection between fish oil and prostate cancer is inaccurate. He states, “After reading these alarmist headlines without adequate clinical context or medical oversight, patients might take healthcare decisions into their own hands. A patient at increased risk for heart disease may decide to cut fish from his diet, or those with elevated triglycerides may stop taking a prescription omega-3, all in order to ’reduce’ his risk for prostate cancer. But at what cost?”

GOED (the Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3s) sums it up nicely by saying that if the findings of this study were true, “then prostate cancer would be rampant in any country with high seafood consumption (Scandinavia, Japan, etc.) and conversely, low level consumption should be protective. Clearly this is not the case.” The lesson, as always, is that we must be sure to know the whole story before drawing the wrong conclusions.

 

References

  1. Brasky TM, Darke AK, Song X, et al., “Plasma phospholipid fatty acids and prostate cancer risk in the SELECT trial.” J Natl Cancer Inst. 2013 Jul 10. [Epub ahead of print]
  2. Brasky TM, Till C, White E, et al., “Serum phospholipid fatty acids and prostate cancer risk: results from the prostate cancer prevention trial.” Am J Epidemiol. 2011 Jun 15;173(12):1429-39.
  3. Szymanski KM, Wheeler DC, Mucci LA, “Fish consumption and prostate cancer risk: a review and meta-analysis.” Am J Clin Nutr. 2010 Nov;92(5):1223-33.
  4. Norrish AE, Skeaff CM, Arribas GL, et al., “Prostate cancer risk and consumption of fish oils: a dietary biomarker-based case-control study.” Br J Cancer. 1999 Dec;81(7):1238-42.

Fermented Milk with Probiotics Affects Brain Function

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 07/22/2013


What happens in your gut affects what happens in your brain (among other things). The gut-brain connection was once thought to travel in one direction—from the brain to the gut. The most obvious brain-to-gut manifestation of this connection is the stomach ache you experience during a stressful event. But we now know that the gut-brain connection is bidirectional. Your digestive events affect your mood and how you think. Now that’s interesting.

Most people think of their digestive tracts as a food processor of sorts. Food in, nutrients absorbed, poop out, end of story. Not quite, my friends. The digestive plot thickens when we consider the 100 trillion bacteria teeming inside us. These bacteria make up 90 percent of the cells in our body—and they contain 99 percent of the DNA we house. Chew on that for a bit (as always, adequate chewing please).

A recent study published in the journal Gastroenterology highlights the gut connection nicely. Using functional MRI testing, researchers found that consumption of fermented milk with probiotics twice daily in healthy women affected activity of brain regions that control central processing of emotion and sensation.

“Our findings indicate that some of the contents of yogurt may actually change the way our brain responds to the environment. When we consider the implications of this work, the old sayings, ‘you are what you eat’ and ‘gut feelings’ take on new meaning,” stated lead researcher, Kirsten Tillisch, MD. “There are studies showing that what we eat can alter the composition and products of the gut flora—in particular, that people with high-vegetable, fiber-based diets have a different composition of their microbiota, or gut environment, than people who eat the more typical Western diet that is high in fat and carbohydrates. Now we know that this has an effect not only on metabolism but also affects brain function.”

I believe we will hear a lot more about the gut-brain connection in the coming months and years. And the gut-immune connection. And the gut-heart connection. And the gut-joint connection. And the gut-whole body connection. Truly, our guts are in control of our health. So it’s time we started to optimize our health by optimizing our digestion.

Phthalate Exposure Linked to Increased Blood Pressure in Children and Teens

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 07/19/2013


Phthalates (pronounced THAL-ates) are chemicals added to plastics used in a wide array of household items from flooring to furniture, plates to plastic wrap, and kids’ toys to tubing. It’s everywhere. While once thought a harmless chemical, studies are continually linking this chemical to negative health effects.

A recent study published in The Journal of Pediatrics found that dietary exposure to a certain phthalate, DEHP (di-2-ethylhexylphthalate), was linked to elevated blood pressure in children and teens.

“Phthalates can inhibit the function of cardiac cells and cause oxidative stress that compromises the health of arteries. But no one has explored the relationship between phthalate exposure and heart health in children,” noted Leonardo Trasande, MD, lead author. “We wanted to examine the link between phthalates and childhood blood pressure in particular given the increase in elevated blood pressure in children and the increasing evidence implicating environmental exposures in early development of disease.”

When will people start to listen to studies like these? It seems as though study after study is released only to fall on deaf ears. Trasande seems to agree, “Our study underscores the need for policy initiatives that limit exposure to disruptive environmental chemicals, in combination with dietary and behavioral interventions geared toward protecting cardiovascular health.” I’m hoping for sooner rather than later.

More Negative Effects of Statins Revealed

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 07/17/2013


Statin drugs are the most widely prescribed drugs worldwide. Many experts believe statins are overprescribed, however, and studies continue to find that statins are not the miracle heart drugs they are painted to be. Two recent studies add to the evidence that statins are not for everyone. Here’s why.

The first study, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, measured cardiorespiratory fitness in previously sedentary, obese individuals, half of whom were taking statins. What they found suggests statins may actually interfere with heart health in an indirect way. Those participants who only exercised increased their cardiorespiratory fitness by 10 percent compared to only 1.5 percent in those also taking a statin.

“Fitness has proven to be the most significant predictor of longevity and health because it protects people from a variety of chronic diseases,” stated John Thyfault, PhD, lead researcher. “Daily physical activity is needed to maintain or improve fitness, and thus improve health outcomes. However, if patients start exercising and taking statins at the same time, it seems that statins block the ability of exercise to improve their fitness levels.”

“Statins have only been used for about 15 to 20 years, so we don’t know what the long-term effects of statins will be on aerobic fitness and overall health,” he continued. “If the drugs cause complications with improving or maintaining fitness, not everyone should be prescribed statins.”

The bad news for statins doesn’t end there. Another recent study published in the British Medical Journal found that certain high potency statins increase the risk of developing diabetes. Researchers looked at data from over 470,000 people treated with statins. Over half of all new statin prescriptions were for atorvastatin, followed by rosuvastatin, simvastatin, pravastatin, lovastatin, and fluvastatin.

Patients taking atorvastatin had a 22 percent increased risk of developing diabetes, while those taking rosuvastatin had an 18 percent increased risk when compared to those taking pravastatin. Patients taking fluvastatin and lovastatin had a 5 and 1 percent decreased risk, respectively. I blogged last year about the link between statin drugs and type 2 diabetes in women. This just adds to the evidence that statins aren’t all that they’re touted to be. Fortunately, lifestyle factors like healthy diet and exercise can reduce cholesterol and improve heart health all on their own.

Low Vitamin D Leads to Weight Gain

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 07/15/2013


Vitamin D is one of the most important nutrients that most people do not get enough of. Low vitamin D levels have been linked to a wide range of negative health conditions, and, on the flip side, adequate vitamin D levels have been linked to a wide range of health benefits. Not only is vitamin D good for healthy bones, but it also benefits immune function, heart health, brain function, healthy mood, and may even be helpful for weight loss.

A recent study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that people with low vitamin D levels were at increased risk of becoming obese in the next four years, according to data analyzed from over 1,200 people who were followed over nine years. “The results of the present study suggest that lower [vitamin D levels] in obese subjects may not have been secondary to obesity, but may in fact precede obesity,” stated the researchers. This means that low vitamin D is not just linked to obesity, but is likely a cause of it.

Fat cells carry vitamin D receptors. This tells us that vitamin D plays an important role in fat cell function. Did you know that your fat tissue is actually considered an organ rather than a simple storage unit for fat? As we learn more, we see that vitamin D receptors are found on almost every cell in the body. It’s no wonder vitamin D is linked to so many health benefits.

Have you checked your vitamin D levels lately? If you have gained weight recently, or are having trouble losing weight, low vitamin D levels could be to blame. Optimal vitamin D levels are between 50 and 80 ng/mL.

The Vicious Cycle of High-Sugar Intake

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 07/12/2013


Do you experience sugar cravings? Do you eat sweets or sugary beverages on a regular basis? Do you want to know why this might be? A recent study helps explain it. Researchers presented a study at the Society of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging’s 2013 annual meeting that found that sugary drink intake in people with insulin resistance—the precursor to high blood sugar and type 2 diabetes—triggered a decrease in the release of dopamine in the pleasure center of the brain.

Dopamine is the neurotransmitter involved in reward. When dopamine is low, we seek out activities that release more dopamine, like seeking a reward. So if only a small amount of dopamine is released when we drink a sugary beverage or eat a sweet treat, we will crave more so that the pleasure center of our brain feels sufficiently rewarded.

Vicious cycle indeed.

The researchers stated, “We suggest that insulin resistance and its association with less dopamine release in a central brain reward region might promote overeating to compensate for this deficit.” I find this interesting because many people have insulin resistance and don’t know it. Even if you have normal blood sugar and are seemingly healthy, you might still have insulin resistance. And if you tend to eat a lot of sweets (which means you probably crave them), it’s likely you have insulin resistance.

There are other reasons for craving sweets, but this one sure makes a lot of sense. And now we see why it’s such a difficult cycle to break. However, I can tell you that once you stop the cycle—and get though the “withdrawal” phase—those sugar cravings begin to fade until you forget what they were like in the first place. You wake up one day and realize the cravings are gone, and you feel so much better. Break the vicious cycle.

Gut Bacteria Balance Affects Response to Vaccination

Filed in General | Posted by lsmith on 07/10/2013


As we have seen over the last few years, our gut microbes (also called gut microbiota or microbiome) impact our health in multitudinous ways, from gut health to brain health, immune health to heart health, and everything in between. Recently, researchers conducted two studies that identified a link between gut microbiota composition and response to vaccination. The studies were a collaborative effort between the University of Maryland School of Medicine and the Center for Vaccine Development, and were published in the Public Library of Sciences ONE journal.

The first study determined the impact of oral typhoid vaccination on the microbiota in the human gut,1 and the second study assessed the impact of vaccines against the pathogen Shigella on the gut microbiota in a primate experimental model.2 Both studies found that the higher diversity of the gut microbes, the greater the protection of the vaccine. This is important information that may one day help inform our public health policies, and perhaps change the way we deliver vaccines.

“Our research raises the intriguing possibility that the gut microbiota may play an important role in response to vaccines and susceptibility to enteric pathogens, or bacteria that affect the intestinal tract,” exclaimed lead researcher Claire Fraser, PhD. “This research provides a fascinating window into the human microbiome, and how the bacteria in our bodies impact our health. Both S. typhi and Shigella are still devastating to populations in certain parts of the world. We hope that this work might one day help to provide relief to those areas that still suffer from these diseases.”

Scientists at the Center for Vaccine Development have been working for many years to develop a better vaccine for typhoid, a condition that affects over 20 million people worldwide, mostly in south-central and south-east Asia. Perhaps looking to the gut will finally provide the answers. Wouldn’t it be great if we would use microbiome diversity as a criterion to be fixed before giving vaccines? I believe giving prebiotics, probiotics, fish oil, vitamin D, zinc, selenium, and an 80 percent plant-based diet will create microbiome diversity that, creates immune health and balance. This could help assure the vaccine would work and be less likely to harm the recipient. In fact, for those who have not received vaccines, the above nutrients and diet are likely to prevent or minimize the seriousness and duration of infections.

More studies are needed, and this research will likely lead to additional studies that will deepen our knowledge of that intricate relationship between “us” and “them.” We are truly a superorganism, or simply put a bus for our bacteria.

Albert Reece, MD, PhD, MBA, vice president for medical affairs at the University of Maryland stated “We expect more groundbreaking discoveries from these research scientists, paving the way for the treatment and prevention of deadly diseases throughout the world.” I look forward to what they might find and how it will help to solve the issues around potential vaccine injuries and vaccine failures.

 

References

  1. Eloe-Fadrosh EA, McArthur MA, Seekatz Am, et al., “Impact of oral typhoid vaccination on the human gut microbiota and correlations with S. typhi-specific immunological responses.” PLoS ONE, 2013; 8 (4): e62026
  2. Seekatz AM, Panda A, Rasko DA, et al., “Differential response of the Cygnomolgus macaque gut microbiota to Shigella infection.” PLoS ONE, 2013; 8 (6): e64212