• 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 .

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Omega-3 Linked to Sleep Quality in Children

Filed in Children, General, Omega-3 & Fish Oil, Sleep | Posted by Brenda Watson on 11/29/2013


In a new study by the researchers from Oxford University, data from the DOLAB research project showed that low blood omega-3 levels—particularly DHA (docosahexaenoic acid)—were associated with decreased sleep quality and an increased risk of sleep disorders in children. Upon further study, the researchers found that supplementation with DHA increased sleep quality.

“We have got far less waking during the night. We’ve got more sleeping, and more efficient sleeping as the ratio of time in bed to time asleep is significantly improved,” stated Paul Montgomery, PhD, lead researcher. “These are not small changes. These are substantial changes. I think clinically they are very significant changes too.”

In addition to linking omega-3 levels to sleep quality, they also noted that, “As sleep problems increased, so did behavioral problems,” not surprisingly. “We know that sleep is very important for behavior. It’s been demonstrated in a large number of trials. But what has not been shown [until now] is what fatty acids might have to do with it,” noted Montgomery.

I recently blogged about another of Paul Montgomery’s omega-3 studies in children, and also about how children are not getting enough omega-3 from the diet. Fortunately, it’s easy for children to take an omega-3 supplement to increase their omega-3 levels.

Probiotics for the Mind—Psychobiotics

Filed in Brain, Depression, General, Probiotics & Gut Flora | Posted by lsmith on 11/27/2013


Use of probiotics to benefit mood is a recent advancement in the scientific literature, first proposed in 2005 when researchers suggested its use as an adjuvant treatment (add-on treatment) to standard care for major depressive disorder.1 In 2013, scientists defined psychobiotic as, “a live organism that, when ingested in adequate amounts, produces a health benefit in patients suffering from psychiatric illness,” recommending probiotics as a novel class of psychotropic (mind-altering) treatment.2 Probiotics have been found to act as delivery vehicles for neuroactive compounds (compounds that stimulate the nervous system),3 and certain probiotic strains actually secrete neuroactive compounds.4,5

In animal models the probiotic Bifidobacterium infantis was found to increase the serotonin precursor tryptophan.6 Serotonin is the feel-good hormone, and many antidepressant medications work by increasing the availability of serotonin. Might probiotics one day fill the role of antidepressant? Time will tell. So far the studies indicate that it’s a good possibility. In another animal model, Bifidobacterium infantis was found to normalize immune response, reverse negative behavioral effects, and restore norepinephrine levels induced by stress.7 Lactobacillus rhamnosus has been found to reduce anxiety and alter expression of GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) receptors in another animal model.8 GABA is a calming neurotransmitter that has a counterbalancing effect to anxiety.

Human studies have also found benefit for probiotics on mood. In one study, individuals who took a combination of the probiotics Lactobacillus helveticus and Bifidobacterium longum for 30 days experienced reduced psychological distress and decreased cortisol levels (cortisol is released under stress) when compared to those who took placebo.9 Another human study found that healthy individuals who consumed a probiotic yogurt for three weeks and who had the lowest mood at the beginning of the study reported that they were happy rather than depressed after taking the probiotic.10 And in a study of patients with chronic fatigue syndrome, those taking Lactobacillus casei three times daily for two months experienced an improvement in anxiety when compared to those taking placebo.11

Also interesting to note, similar to antibiotics, antipsychotic medications have been found to alter the gut microbial balance by decreasing the amount of Actinobacteria (of which Bifidobacterium is a member) and Proteobacteria and increasing the number of Firmicutes.12 Likely not coincident, these individuals also gained weight—increases of Firmicutes have been found to be associated with weight gain.

The gut-brain connection is very interesting. As we continue to learn more about how our gut microbes affect mood, it is clear that probiotics—or psychobiotics as these researchers have termed them—will play an important role in managing or possibly even preventing mood disorders. I’ll keep you posted as we learn more.

References

  1. Logan AC, Katzman M, “Major depressive disorder: probiotics may be an adjuvant therapy.” Med Hypotheses. 2005;64(3):533-8.
  2. Dinan TG, Stanton C, and Cryan JF, “Psychobiotics: a novel class of psychotropic.” Biol Psychiatry. 2013 Nov 15;74(10):720-6.
  3. Lyte M, “Probiotics function mechanistically as delivery vehicles for neuroactive compounds: Microbial endocrinology in the design and use of probiotics.” Bioessays. 2011 Aug;33(8):574-81.
  4. Schousboe A, Waagepetersen HS, “GABA: homeostatic and pharmacological aspects.” Prog Brain Res. 2007;160:9-19.
  5. Roshchina VV, “Evolutionary Considerations of Neurotransmitters in Microbial, Plant, and Animal Cells.” In: Lyte M, Freestone PPE, editors. Microbial Endocrinology:Interkingdom Signaling in Infectious Disease and Health. New York: Springer, 17–52.
  6. Desbonnet L, Garret L, Clarke G, et al., “The probiotic Bifidobacteria infantis: An assessment of potential antidepressant properties in the rat.” J Psychiatr Res. 2008 Dec;43(2):164-74.
  7. Desbonnet L, Garret L, Clarke G, et al., “Effects of the probiotic Bifidobacterium infantis in the maternal separation model of depression.” Neuroscience. 2010 Nov 10;170(4):1179-88.
  8. Bravo JA, Forsythe P, Chew MV, et al., “Ingestion of Lactobacillus strain regulates emotional behavior and central GABA receptor expression in a mouse via the vagus nerve.” Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 2011 Sep 20;108(38):16050-5.
  9. Messaoudi M, “Assessment of psychotropic-like properties of a probiotic formulation (Lactobacillus helveticus R0052 and Bifidobacterium longum R0175) in rats and human subjects.”
  10. Benton D, Williams C, Brown A, “Impact of consuming a milk drink containing a probiotic on mood and cognition.” Eur J Clin Nutr. 2007 Mar;61(3):355-61.
  11. Rao AV, Bested AC, Beaulne TM, et al., “A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled pilot study of a probiotic in emotional symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome.” Gut Pathog. 2009 Mar 19;1(1):6.Davey KJ, O’Mahoney SM, Schellekens H, et al., “Gender-dependent consequences of chronic olanzapine in the rat: effects on body weight, inflammatory, metabolic and microbiota parameters.” Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2012 May;221(1):155-69.
  12. K.J. Davey, S.M. O’Mahoney, H. Schellekens, et al., “Gender-dependednt consequences of chronic olanzapine in the rat: effects on body weight, inflammatory, metabolic and microbiota parameters.” Psychopharmacology 221, no. 1 (May 2012):155–69.

Low Fiber Intake, Higher Cardiovascular Disease Risk

Filed in Dietary Fiber, Digestive Health, General, Heart Disease, Inflammation, Obesity | Posted by Brenda Watson on 11/25/2013


If you haven’t yet heard that a high-fiber diet is good for your heart, I would be surprised. For years nutrition experts, including myself, have been telling people to eat more fiber not only to support heart health, but also digestive health, which is the foundation for total-body health. A new study published in The American Journal of Medicine analyzed data from over 23,000 people to examine the role of dietary fiber in heart health.

The researchers found that dietary fiber intake was consistently lower than the recommended amounts. The Institute of Medicine recommends 38 grams of fiber per day for men aged 19 to 50 years, 30 grams per day for men over 50, 25 grams for women aged 19 to 50, and 21 grams for women over 50. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends 20 to 35 grams of fiber daily. Yet the study participants only averaged a daily fiber intake of 16.2 grams.

Further, those participants with the lowest intake of dietary fiber had the highest prevalence of cardiovascular disease risk, metabolic syndrome, inflammation, and obesity; and those participants with the highest intake of fiber had the lowest risk of these conditions. “Low dietary fiber intake from 1999 to 2010 in the United States and associations between higher dietary fiber and a lower prevalence of cardiometabolic risks suggest the need to develop new strategies and policies to increase dietary fiber intake,” noted Cheryl R. Clark, MD, ScD, lead researcher. Here, here.

There are two great ways to increase your daily fiber intake: increase your consumption of non-starchy fruits and vegetables and add a fiber supplement to be sure you reach the recommended daily amounts. Your heart will thank you.

Moderate Exercise Prevents Depression

Filed in Depression, Exercise, General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 11/22/2013


According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 1 in 10 US adults report being depressed. The most common treatments for depression include medication and therapy, although exercise has also been found to be a helpful treatment. Taking this concept one step further, in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, researchers reviewed 30 studies on the effects of moderate exercise for the prevention of depression and found that 25 of these studies demonstrated that an increase in physical activity was associated with a decreased risk of subsequently developing depression.

“This review shows promising evidence that the impact of being active goes far beyond the physical,” stated George Mammen, lead researcher. With the ever-rising sea of health-care costs, a preventive strategy for depression—and really any health condition or disorder—is crucial. “We need a prevention strategy now more than ever. Our health system is taxed. We need to shift focus and look for ways to fend off depression from the start.”

I recommend regular physical activity for a number of reasons. Not only will your mental health benefit, but your stress levels will fall, your risk of many chronic diseases will drop, your weight will decrease, and your digestion will improve. If those aren’t good reasons to get moving, I don’t know what are. Regular exercise has been an integral part of my own life for many, many years. I make time for it because I know how important it is to my health. I hope that you will make the time for it, too.

EWGs Dirty Dozen Hormone-Disrupting Chemicals

Filed in General, Household | Posted by Brenda Watson on 11/20/2013


The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is at it again. Famous for their Dirty Dozen list of the top 12 fruits and vegetables most contaminated with pesticides, EWG has a new Dirty Dozen—for hormone-disrupting chemicals. They have compiled a list of the 12 worst endocrine-disrupting chemicals and how to avoid them. Here is the list:

  1. Bisphenol A (BPA)
  2. Dioxin
  3. Atrazine
  4. Phthalates
  5. Perchlorate
  6. Fire retardants
  7. Lead
  8. Arsenic
  9. Mercury
  10. Perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs)
  11. Organophosphate pesticides
  12. Glycol esters

For more information about these chemicals, their damaging effects, and how you can avoid them, see EWG’s guide here.

High Blood Sugar May Increase Risk for Dementia

Filed in Alzheimer's, Brain, Diabetes, General, Seniors, Sugar | Posted by Brenda Watson on 11/18/2013


The link between high blood sugar and poor health go far beyond diabetes, a condition of epidemic proportions on its own. Not only does high blood sugar put you at risk for heart disease, but Alzheimer’s as well, a condition also known as type 3 diabetes. A recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine further solidifies the evidence that high blood sugar, even in people who do not have diabetes, is associated with an increased risk of dementia.

The study “may have influence on the way we think about blood sugar and the brain,” said Paul Crane, MD, lead author. The study analyzed data from over 2,000 patients of average age 76, and tracked blood sugar levels for almost seven years. “We found a steadily increasing risk associated with ever-higher blood glucose levels, even in people who didn’t have diabetes,” said Crane.

Researchers are still trying to figure out just how increased blood sugar leads to dementia. In the meantime, achieving and maintaining a healthy blood sugar level is always a good goal. While standard blood tests label normal blood glucose (sugar) levels at below 99 mg/dL, studies have found that blood glucose levels between 75 and 85, along with an insulin level of 5 IU/mL or less, as most protective of cardiovascular health.

Checking insulin levels along with blood sugar is important because the insulin goes up before the blood sugar levels, since insulin is the hormone that regulates blood sugar. High insulin is a sign that you may be headed toward insulin resistance, which leads to high blood sugar and inflammation.

Eating a diet high in non-starchy vegetables and fruits, healthy fats, lean proteins, nuts, and seeds will help you reach healthy blood sugar levels, among many other health benefits.

Omega-3 Supplementation and Aging

Filed in Brain, General, Omega-3 & Fish Oil, Seniors | Posted by Brenda Watson on 11/15/2013


With the brain benefits of omega-3 fatty acids ever increasing, studies of the effects of omega-3s in older people continue to emerge. In a recent study published in the journal Nutrition, people over the age of 65 with higher blood levels of DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) also exhibited slower cellular aging, as marked by a reduction in the shortening of telomeres, DNA strands at the end of chromosomes that shorten as cells age. In general, shortened telomeres are a sign of aging and cell damage.

“It is becoming increasingly evident that damage specific to the telomeric ends of chromosomes is one of the most critical events that initiate genome instability leading to accelerated aging, cognitive decline, and neurodegenerative disease,” stated the researchers.

In the study, 33 people over age 65 with mild cognitive impairment were randomly assigned to one of three groups: One group received omega-3 EPA, one received omega-3 DHA, and the third received omega-6 linoleic acid (LA) daily for six months. At the end of the study, the omega-6 group showed the greatest shortening of telomeres compared to both the EPA and DHA group.

“Specifically, increasing omega-3 PUFA [polyunsaturated fatty acid] intake via supplementation may attenuate telomere shortening that occurs with age. These data build on current epidemiological evidence and recent reports linking increased marine omega-3 PUFA with decreased telomere attrition,” they stated.

In another recent study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, researchers analyzed data from over 2,000 elderly people who were followed for five years. The scientists found that those people who had the highest blood levels of omega-3—DHA in particular—had a 40 percent reduced risk of small brain infarcts than did those with the lowest levels. Brain infarcts are lesions in the brain that can cause cognitive dysfunction, dementia, and stroke.

“Our findings in these older men and women suggest that circulating long-chain omega-3 PUFA concentrations, a biomarker of regular fish consumption, are associated with lower risk and could be beneficial for the prevention of certain subclinical brain abnormalities that are commonly observed in the elderly,” stated the authors.

These studies add to a large body of evidence in support of increasing consumption of the omega-3 fatty acids found in certain fish and fish oil—EPA and DHA. From infancy through old age, this is one supplement you will want to take throughout your life cycles.

How Rich are Your Gut Bacteria?

Filed in General, Obesity, Probiotics & Gut Flora | Posted by lsmith on 11/13/2013


There are more factors that contribute to the development of obesity and related conditions than simply what we eat and how much energy we expend. The very notion of calories in, calories out is not what it seems; at least, not at face value. As researchers are discovering, your gut microbes have more to do with your metabolism than you might ever have imagined. A recent study published in the journal Nature gives us a closer look at how our gut inhabitants affect our propensity to develop obesity and related conditions.1

Researchers looked at the gut microbial composition, including the number of microbial genes, of 292 obese and non-obese Danish individuals. They were able to separate the individuals in to two groups based on the number of microbial genes—what they called bacterial richness. Those with the highest gene count had the highest bacterial richness and vice versa. They found that those with the lowest bacterial richness (23 percent of the individuals) also had more abdominal fat, insulin resistance, high insulin, increased triglycerides, decreased HDL-cholesterol (“good” cholesterol), and increased C-reactive protein (hsCRP—a marker of inflammation) when compared to the group with high bacterial richness.

In the people with low bacterial richness, they found 46 different bacteria groups (genera) to be more abundant; these include such potential pathogens as Campylobacter, Porphyromonas, Ruminococcus and Staphylococcus (plus commensals like Bacteroides). In the people with high bacterial richness, they found an abundance of Faecalibacterium, Bifidobacterium, Lactobacillus, Methanobrevibacter, and more. You may notice two stars in that last group—Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. These probiotic bacteria are known to have a wide range of human health benefits, so it is no surprise that they were found to be abundant in these healthy people who had higher bacterial richness.

The researchers also found that those who had low bacterial richness exhibited the potential to produce metabolites with possible deleterious health effects, including the ability to produce carcinogens—yes, your gut bacteria can produce carcinogens. On the other hand, those who had high bacterial richness exhibited the potential to produce organic acids known to be beneficial to health, including the short-chain fatty acids lactate, propionate, and butyrate.

Those with low bacterial richness (shall we call them bacterially poor?) showed the following characteristics:

  • Reduction in the butyrate-producing bacteria (butyrate nourishes the cells of the intestinal lining)
  • Increased potential for mucous degradation (the mucous lining protects the intestinal lining from damage)
  • Reduced hydrogen and methane production potential combined with increased hydrogen sulfide formation potential
  • Increase abundance of Campylobacter/Shigella (both potential pathogens)
  • Increased potential for oxidative stress (production of peroxidase)

About these characteristics the researchers stated, “Overall, this suggests that [those individuals with low bacterial richness] harbor an inflammation-associated microbiota. Together, these analyses suggest that the [low bacterial richness] individuals are featured by metabolic disturbances known to bring them at increased risk of pre-diabetes, type 2 diabetes and ischaemic cardiovascular disorders. We propose that an imbalance of potentially pro- and anti-inflammatory bacterial species triggers low-grade inflammation and insulin resistance.”

Low bacterial richness has also been found in patients with inflammatory bowel disorder,2,3 elderly patients with inflammation,4 and obese individuals.5 In animal studies, this reduced bacterial richness has been induced by repeated antibiotic use.6 In humans, antibiotic use during childhood has been found to lead to increased risk of later being overweight, possibly due to a reduction in bacterial richness.7 In the Danish study, the obese individuals with low bacterial richness gained more weight than did the individuals with high bacterial richness.

As the authors state, “Obesity is not just obesity.” There is more to the story. Even lean people can harbor the wrong microbes, or have a low diversity of microbes, and be more at risk for chronic health conditions normally associated with obesity. This study will certainly lead to more investigation into the diversity of our gut microbes, and more specifically, how those microbes interact to produce health or disease. I eagerly await more insight into this fascinating universe.

 

References

  1. Le Chatelier E, Nielsen T, Qin J, et al., “Richness of human gut microbiome correlates with metabolic markers.” Nature. 2013 Aug 29;500:541–546.
  2. Manichanh C, Rigottier-Gois L, Bonnaud E, et al., “Reduced diversity of faecal microbiota in Crohn’s disease revealed by a metagenomic approach.” Gut. 2006 Feb;55(2):205-11.
  3. Lepage P, Hasler R, Spehlmann ME, et al., “Twin study indicates loss of interaction between microbiota and mucosa of patients with ulcerative colitis.” Gastroenterology. 2011 Jul;141(1):227-36.
  4. Claesson MJ, Jeffrey IB, Conde S, et al., “Gut microbiota composition correlates with diet and health in the elderly.” Nature. 2012 Aug 9;488(7410):178-84.
  5. Turnbaugh PJ, Hamady M, Yatsuneko T, et al., “A core gut microbiome in obese and lean twins.” Nature. 2009 Jan 22;457(7228):480-4.
  6. Cho I, Yamanishi S, Cox L, et al., “Antibiotics in early life alter the murine colonic microbiome and adiposity.” Nature. 2012 Aug 30;488(7413):621-6.
  7. Ajslev TA, Andersen CS, Gamborg M, et al., “Childhood overweight after establishment of the gut microbiota: the role of delivery mode, pre-pregnancy weight and early administration of antibiotics.” Int J Obes (Lond). 2011 Apr;35(4):522-9.

Probiotics for Common Cold in Healthy Adults

Filed in General, Probiotics & Gut Flora, Respiratory issues | Posted by Brenda Watson on 11/11/2013


Probiotics are live microorganisms that, when taken in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host (that’s you). Probiotics are most known for their digestive benefits because the digestive tract is where they work. Not everyone is aware that probiotics also have important immune health benefits, primarily because up to 80 percent of the immune system resides in the digestive tract. The gut-associated lymphoid tissue (GALT for short) is situated in and around the intestines and is in constant contact and communication with the microbes (which includes the probiotics) living in the intestines.

Probiotics play as much a role on immune health as they do on digestive health. A recent study published in the journal Clinical Nutrition highlights the immune benefits of the probiotic Bifidobacterium lactis. The study involved 465 healthy adults average age 35 and found that those participants who took 2 billion CFUs (colony forming units) of Bifidobacterium lactis daily for 150 days had a 27 percent reduction in the risk of upper respiratory tract infections (that’s a fancy way of saying the common cold) than did those participants who took a placebo.

“This study adds important new information regarding the effects of probiotic supplementation for respiratory illness,” wrote the authors. “The positive effects of probiotic supplementation appear to extend beyond individuals considered to have a higher susceptibility to illness.” They also found that the time it took for participants to get sick was delayed by 0.7 months in those people taking the probiotic when compared to those taking placebo.

This study shows that daily supplementation with B. lactis has important immune benefits even for healthy people who want to ward off the common cold.

Soda Consumption Goes Down and Chronic Disease Risk Improves

Filed in General, Inflammation, Sugar | Posted by Brenda Watson on 11/08/2013


Consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages increased from the late 1970s through the following two decades, reaching a peak intake of 100 grams per day in 1999 to 2000. A recent study published in the journal Nutrition Research that analyzed data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) found that consumption of these sugary beverages has decreased from 100 grams to about 77 grams in 2007 to 2008.

That’s good news, of course. Any decrease in consumption of soda, the drink that makes up the majority of sugary beverages, is a good sign. The study revealed even more good news: Along with a decrease in soda consumption were decreases in LDL cholesterol levels and C-reactive protein (CRP) (a well-known marker of inflammation) and increases in HDL cholesterol (the “good” cholesterol). These biomarkers of cardiovascular disease risk improved over time while sweetened-beverage consumption decreased. “Two-thirds of the decline was due to a decrease in consumption of sodas with added sugars,” stated the researchers.

I’m glad to see that some improvement is being made when it comes to soda consumption. We still have a long way to go, however. With so many thirst-quenching beverage options available today, sugar-sweetened drinks simply are not necessary. Our consumption of sugar and starchy carbohydrates, even if decreasing, is still contributing to an array of metabolic imbalances that lead to chronic disease. If you want to do one thing to improve your health, remove these drinks from your diet.