• Gut Health
  • Heart Health
    • Heart Health

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

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

  • Skin Health
    • Skin Health

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

  • Brain Health
    • Brain Health

      The gut-brain connection occurs in two directions—from the brain to the gut, and from the gut to the brain. When a person has a “gut feeling,” or an emotional upset causes a stomachache or loss of appetite, they experience examples of the first, most familiar direction. When the gut is out of balance, inflammation results leading to a condition commonly known as leaky gut. A leaky gut will allow undigested food particles and toxins to enter into the bloodstream. Some may cross into the brain, setting the stage for diseases like Alzheimers and dementia. Recognizing the underlying contributing factors that created the gut imbalance in the first place is the first step to achieving optimal brain function .

  • Diet & Health
    • Diet & Health

      Healthy pH levels, whether in the colon or systemic, are found when you eat a high-fiber diet, high in vegetables and fruits, healthy proteins, and healthy fats. Complement this with foods and supplements high in beneficial bacteria, omega-3 fatty acids, and digestive enzymes, and you will be supporting optimal health (which begins in the digestive system).

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FDA Sets Limit for Arsenic in Apple Juice

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 08/30/2013


I love it when I have good news to report, especially when it involves new regulations that help keep us safer and healthier. The FDA recently set a new standard for arsenic in apple juice as a result of public outcry that began two years ago when Dr. Oz revealed that over 25 percent of apple-juice samples tested had arsenic levels over 10 parts per billion (the federal limit for arsenic in water).

After the Dr. Oz study, Consumer Reports published another study that confirmed and strengthened Dr. Oz’s results, prompting the FDA to conduct its own investigation. Between 2008 and 2011 the FDA tested 260 samples of apple juice and found that 97 percent were below 10 ppb. All but one sample tested below 20 ppb, with the highest sample—43 ppb—found in an apple juice imported from Turkey.

FDA proposed a level of 10 parts per billion (ppb) as the new limit for apple juice, the first food to have a limit set for arsenic levels. I applaud this new limit, and I am encouraged that consumer concerns have had such a beneficial impact of federal regulation. Now, if only the FDA could move as quickly on other toxins in foods. Perhaps arsenic levels in rice will be next? Or BPA? Mercury in fish? We have a way to go, but I applaud any step in the right direction.

Multi-Strain Probiotics for Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 08/28/2013


There are over 1000 species of bacteria that naturally occur in the human digestive tract. A high diversity of bacteria is characteristic of a healthy gut balance. Increasingly, researchers and doctors are recommending multi-strain probiotic formulas to reflect the natural diversity found in a healthy gut. Because each strain has unique characteristics and functions, a multi-strain probiotic may be the best way to ensure the probiotics are producing the most benefit.

A recent study published in the Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology administered a multi-strain probiotic containing six strains of a mix of Bifidobacterium, Lactobacillus, and Streptococcus daily for four weeks. Fully 68 percent of participants with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) taking the probiotic reported IBS symptom relief compared to only 37 percent of participants taking placebo.

“Multi-species probiotics may have a variety of different beneficial effects on IBS symptoms because each species acts in a particular way on the gastrointestinal tract and two or more species acting together may have a synergistic effect,” noted the researchers. “Multi-species probiotics given to IBS patients are effective in the global relief of IBS symptoms as well as in alleviating abdominal pain, discomfort, and bloating. Furthermore, the multi-species probiotics induced the alterations of intestinal microbiota.”

Although studies on single strain probiotics are less complicated, due to the less complicated nature of the formula, it is becoming clear that multi-strain probiotics have benefits above that of single strains. For example, a recent study investigating the effect of a single strain yogurt containing Bifidobacterium animalis did not find benefit, in contrast to the study reported here. It simply makes sense that a multi-strain probiotic would work better when you consider the vast diversity of a healthy human gut.

Acid Reflux Drugs May Impair Heart Function

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 08/26/2013


Sixty percent of adults experience acid reflux—also known as gastroesophageal reflux and, more commonly, heartburn—at least once each year while 20 to 30 percent experience acid reflux symptoms on a weekly basis. The most commonly prescribed drugs for this condition are proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), with FDA estimating that about 1 in 14 American’s have used them.

I have written a lot about proton pump inhibitors because of their numerous detrimental effects and their overprescription and widespread over-the-counter availability. A recent study published in the journal Circulation offers yet another reason against taking these potentially dangerous drugs. The scientists found that PPIs caused constriction of blood vessels in human tissue and animal models, suggesting they might impair heart function in humans.

“We found that PPIs interfere with the ability of blood vessels to relax,” stated Yohannes Ghebramariam, PhD, lead author. “PPIs have this adverse effect by reducing the ability of human blood vessels to generate nitric oxide. Nitric oxide generated by the lining of the vessel is known to relax, and to protect, arteries and veins.”

More studies will be needed to determine the actual heart disease risk of PPIs in humans, but in the meantime, lead researcher John Cooke, MD, PhD, suggested, “Patients taking PPIs may wish to speak to their doctors about switching to another drug to protect their stomachs if they are at risk for a heart attack.”

So many people take PPIs on a regular basis, particularly because they are available over the counter, yet if you read the label, it clearly states, “Use as directed for 14 days to treat frequent heartburn. Do not take for more than 14 days or more often than every 4 months unless directed by a doctor.” If you are taking this medication long term, be sure to talk to your doctor about the potential risks. If your doctor is not receptive to your concerns, it may be time to find another doctor.

Pollution Exposure during Pregnancy Linked to Autism

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 08/23/2013


Of the many contributing factors to autism, toxin exposure is one of the least well understood due to the difficulty of studying it. Helping to shed more light on the topic, however, is a recent study published in Environmental Health Perspectives from Harvard School of Public Health.

The scientists found that US women exposed to high levels of diesel or mercury in the air during pregnancy were up to twice as likely to have children with autism as those women living in low-pollution areas. In addition, women living in areas with the highest amounts of lead, manganese, methyl chloride, and combined metals were at a 50 percent increased risk of having a child with autism.

Air pollution has been linked to so many health conditions in adults and children. Check your local air quality index here.

“Our results suggest that new studies should begin the process of measuring metals and other pollutants in the blood of pregnant women or newborn children to provide stronger evidence that specific pollutants increase risk of autism,” noted lead author Marc Weisskopf, PhD. “A better understanding of this can help to develop interventions to reduce women’s exposure to these pollutants.”

The link between toxin exposure and autism is an important issue that has not been taken as seriously as it should be. I hope this prominent study as well as another recent study on linking toxins to autism and ADHD will help change that and lead to more research that reveals the truth that many integrative doctors have known about—and have been treating—for some time now.

The Gut-Brain Connection of Depression to C. difficile Infection

Filed in General | Posted by lsmith on 08/21/2013


Clostridium difficile infection is linked to 14,000 deaths each year in the United States and continues to increase each year.1 Antibiotic use is the major cause of C. diff infection, but other medications are known to increase risk, including proton-pump inhibitors and h-2 blockers, which are both stomach acid-blocking medications. Another class of drugs that is coming to light as a risk factor for C. diff is antidepressants. Interestingly, it turns out that it’s not just antidepressants, but depression itself that increases risk.

A recent study published in the journal BMC Medicine found that the risk of C. difficile infection was even greater in patients diagnosed with major depression or on antidepressants than it was for people taking PPIs or H-2 blockers.2 Depression is the third most prevalent disabling condition worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. Not only do antidepressants and depression increase risk of C. diff, but people who simply reported feeling sad or having emotional, nervous, or psychiatric problems were also at increased risk. Widowed individuals and those living alone were also at increased risk. This tells us that there are many people who are at risk.

It is known that depression alters the gut microbiota and increases intestinal permeability (leaky gut). Likewise, leaky gut and altered gut microbiota increase depression symptoms.3 The truth is, the connection between the gut and brain goes both ways, which can create a vicious cycle. “In a 12-year prospective study, the relationship between anxiety, depression, and functional GI (gastrointestinal) disorders appeared to be bi-directional, in that psychiatric disorders predicted GI disease and vice versa,”4 stated the researchers. “It is possible that there is a lifelong liaison between the gut microbiota and neurologic response to external stimuli.”

Even stress alone has been found to cause a decrease in the beneficial gut bacteria.5 And we know that stress can lead to depression and anxiety, along with a host of other health conditions. To break this vicious cycle, eat a diet that supports a healthy gut balance—with plenty of high-fiber foods in the form of non-starchy vegetables and fruits, healthy fats, lean proteins, nuts, and seeds—along with taking probiotic and omega-3 supplementation, vitamin D, and digestive enzymes for proper digestion of food.

It would be wise to test for omega-3 and vitamin D levels at least once or twice a year. If you are dealing with inflammation requiring higher doses, you may need more frequent testing and monitoring through your healthcare practitioner since you will want to keep your omega-3 and vitamin D levels optimal.

In addition, it is important that you manage stress with an activity that relaxes you—mentally and physiologically. One of the best ways to achieve this is through a breathing meditation. If the idea of meditation sounds intimidating, I encourage you to check out Heart Math Institute. They have developed wonderful tools that guide you through breathing exercises and visualizations. Their techniques have been found to reduce a variety of negative health effects related to stress, including high blood pressure, anxiety, anger, and more.

By addressing gut health along with mental health—they go hand in hand—we can more effectively manage such detrimental, and somewhat preventable, conditions such as C. difficile infection. Prevention is key, which is why I recommend a healthy eating and living habits to everyone.

 

References

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). QuickStats: rates of Clostridium difficile infection among hospitalized patients aged ≥65 years, by age group — National Hospital Discharge Survey, United States, 1996-2009. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2011;60(34):1171.
  2. Roger MA, Greene MT, Young VB, et al., “Depression, antidepressant medications, and risk of Clostridium difficile infection.” BMC Medicine. 2013;11:121.
  3. Koloski NA, Jones M, Kalantar J, et al., “The brain–gut pathway in functional gastrointestinal disorders is bidirectional: a 12-year prospective population-based study.” Gut. 2012 Sep;61(9):1284-90.
  4. Maes M, Kubera M, Leunis JC, “The gut-brain barrier in major depression: intestinal mucosal dysfunction with an increased translocation of LPS from gram negative enterobacteria (leaky gut) plays a role in the inflammatory pathophysiology of depression.” Neuro Endocrinol Lett. 2008 Feb;29(1):117-24.
  5. Baily MT and Coe CL, “Maternal separation disrupts the integrity of the intestinal microflora in infant rhesus monkeys.” Dev Psychobiol. 1999 Sep;35(2):146-55.

Vitamin D for Children and Teens

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 08/19/2013


The wonders of vitamin D continue to amaze me as study after study links low vitamin D levels to poor health and vitamin D supplementation and optimal vitamin D levels to good health. This holds true in children and teens as well.

In two studies recently presented at The Endocrine Society’s Annual Meeting, vitamin D again proved its importance to health during youth. In one study, researchers found that vitamin D deficiency was linked to the early development of puberty in girls, suggesting that vitamin D supplementation may help to delay early puberty in these children.

Among 110 girls between the ages of 7 and 10, 35 had reached puberty early (before the age of 8). Of those girls, 44 percent had severe vitamin D deficiency compared to only 21 percent of the girls who had reached puberty at a normal age.  “Our results suggest that vitamin D may inhibit early pubertal onset and/or the rapid progression of puberty,” stated Sim Sum Kim, MD, PhD, lead researcher.

In the second study, 54 out of 86 studied children 10 to 18 years were overweight or obese. The researchers found that the higher the obesity, the higher the level of leptin and the lower the levels of adiponectin and vitamin D. Obese youth also had higher levels of allergy and inflammation markers that the researchers concluded, “seemed to depend on the vitamin D deficiency seen in the more obese patients, leading us to conclude that the increased risk for allergy in obesity may be mediated by vitamin D to some degree.”

These results are not surprising, given the vast number of conditions linked to vitamin D deficiency. It is my hope that doctors begin to test vitamin D levels at every age and stage of health to help make sure people are optimizing their vitamin D intake. Our health—and our children’s health—depends on it.

Too Many Americans are on Prescription Drugs

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 08/16/2013


A recent report by the Mayo Clinic states that almost 70 percent of Americans are on at least one prescription drug. Seventy percent. That number is astounding to me.

The number-one most common prescription drug is antibiotics. The over-prescription of antibiotics is a problem that I have covered many times. This study confirms the gravity of the situation. Number two on the list is antidepressants, another concerning statistic not only because the mental health care in this country is poor, but also because many chronic conditions are treated with antidepressants because the doctor concludes the symptoms are, “all in your head.” Does this sound familiar to you? Fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) all come to mind. Number three on the list is opioids, or opiate pain pills—yet more bad news considering the highly-addictive nature of these drugs.

Prescription drug use has been increasing for the past decade. Yet are we, as a nation, getting healthier? Not quite. We are getting sicker, and the pharmaceutical industry is making more money. Something does not add up.

I promote healthy living habits as an approach to achieve and maintain vibrant health. I have seen the renewal of health come for many people who first addressed their digestion as a way to bring about total-body health. I have seen the detrimental effects of unnecessary antibiotic use, inappropriately prescribed antidepressants, and the addictive effects of opioids, not to mention a host of other complications that resulted from inappropriate prescription drug use.

I urge people to become their own health advocates through education and positive lifestyle changes. Navigating the medical care system can be intimidating, but if you take control of your health by learning about your options and making healthy choices, you, too, can renew your health.

Make-Up Sleep Improves Insulin Sensitivity—Possible Type 2 Diabetes Prevention

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 08/14/2013


The destructive effects of sleep deprivation include weight gain, insulin resistance, increased risk of stroke, among a long list of conditions and symptoms. Yet many of us do not get the recommended 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night, especially during the week. A study presented at The Endocrine Society’s recent Annual Meeting offers some good news for those of us who sleep less on weeknights while making up for it on weekends.

The researchers studied 19 non-diabetic men who reported at least six months of insufficient sleep during weeknights. The men reported sleeping an average of 6.2 hours on weeknights, which was verified by a monitor that detects sleep-wake cycles. The men spent three nights in a sleep lab on two separate weekends. Those men who slept 10 hours a night for three nights had greatly improved their insulin sensitivity when compared to those men who only got 6 hours of sleep, or who slept for 10 hours with continual sound-interruption.

“The good news is that by extending the hours of sleep, adult men—who over a long period of time do not get enough sleep during the working week—can still improve their insulin sensitivity,” stated lead researcher Peter Liu, MD, PhD.

Insulin sensitivity is the ability of the body to move sugar (glucose) into cells from the bloodstream. Insulin sensitivity determines blood sugar levels. The more insulin sensitivity there is, the better the blood sugar levels are. Conversely, insulin resistance is the inability of the body to move sugar into cells, thus raising blood sugar levels. Sleep deprivation has been found to increase insulin resistance.

More research is needed to confirm these results in a larger group of people, and also in women. Whether make-up sleep helps reduce the other detrimental effects of lack of sleep remains to be seen, but at least there is some hope for those of us who lack sleep. Getting seven to eight plus hours of sleep per night is still the best way to maximize health benefits, however. So when you can, try to get a full night’s sleep.

Gluten Antibodies High in Children with Autism

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 08/12/2013


Autism is a complex disorder involving a number of contributing factors that are not entirely understood. Many children with autism also suffer from digestive symptoms, which are thought to contribute to the condition as a possible causative factor. A recent study published in the Public Library of Sciences (PLoS) journal is strengthening the evidence for gluten’s role in autism. Researchers from Columbia Medical Center analyzed blood samples and medical records of 140 children—37 of the children were diagnosed with autism and the rest were unaffected siblings or healthy control subjects.

The researchers found that in the children affected by autism who also experienced digestive symptoms, gluten antibodies (IgG or immunoglobulin G antibodies) were elevated. “The IgG antibody response to gluten does not necessarily indicate sensitivity to gluten or any disease-causing role for the antibodies in the context of autism,” stated Armin Alaedinin, PhD, lead researcher. “But the higher levels of antibody to gluten and their association with gastrointestinal symptoms point to immunologic and/or intestinal permeability [leaky gut] abnormalities in the affected children.”

Interestingly, they found these gluten antibodies in children experiencing digestive symptoms, but they did not find that these children had celiac disease. What these children suffered, instead, was likely gluten sensitivity. The immune systems of these children were responding inappropriately to a food that would normally not be seen as a threat. Immune imbalance is one of many contributing factors to autism. And the removal of gluten from the diets of these children provides digestive relief and, often, reduction of autism symptoms.

Many children are finding a lot of relief from autism-related symptoms, and some are even reversing the disorder, with biomedical treatment. The Autism Research Institute is a great resource for people looking for more information on the topic. You can also check out my past blogs on autism and gluten.

Cooking Method Affects Beneficial Compounds in Broccoli

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 08/09/2013


Broccoli is one of those super foods that we all need to eat more often. Broccoli is high in nutrients and fiber, and is a particularly good source of glucoraphanin—a compound that is converted into sulforaphane, which has been found to improve phase II liver detoxification, and to have potent anti-cancer activity. If broccoli is not a regular part of your diet, it should be. But a recent study published in the Journal of Functional Foods found that not all forms of broccoli are equal.

Scientists found that frozen broccoli does not produce sulforaphane, likely due to the inactivation of the enzyme myrisonase, which is needed to convert glucoraphanin into sulforaphane. “Coupled with the cooking procedures that frozen broccoli undergoes, this process far exceeds the reported temperature stability of the broccoli enzyme myrisonase,” stated Elizabeth Jeffrey, PhD, lead researcher. Frozen broccoli is blanched before freezing, which introduces high temperatures that deactivate this crucial enzyme.

They also tested the ability of freeze-dried broccoli to produce sulforaphane. Although freeze-dried broccoli did show increased ability to convert to sulforaphane, after being heated in a microwave it didn’t perform any better than the frozen broccoli. “The results show that in these products, there was very little potential to form sulforaphane prior to cooking and essentially none after the recommended cooking method was performed,” they stated.

The bottom line? Raw broccoli may be the best way to obtain the beneficial sulforaphane compound. Juicing is a great way to obtain nutrients from broccoli. I certainly wouldn’t stop eating cooked broccoli, because sulforaphane is not the only nutrient in broccoli, but be sure to also add some raw broccoli to get the full spectrum of nutrients available.