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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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Infants and Toddlers Exposed to Potentially Harmful Parabens

Filed in Children, Environmental Toxins, Infancy, Pregnant women | Posted by Brenda Watson on 01/31/2014


Infants and toddlers may be exposed to as much as two to three times as much potentially harmful parabens from personal care products such as lotions, shampoos, and soaps, according to a study published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology. Parabens are used as preservatives in a wide range of products, and are easy to spot in products that list ingredients because they are found in ingredients that end in “paraben.”

More than 90 percent of the population is exposed to these chemicals, which have been linked to health issues in animals and humans, such as sperm damage, breast cancer, and an increased risk of asthma. Infants and toddlers may be at increased risk of the reproductive effects of parabens due to their increased reproductive sensitivity during the formative years of life. Pregnant women would also do well to avoid these chemicals.

The best way to avoid parabens is to look for products that are labeled as “paraben free.” Be sure to read the ingredient labels of the products you buy. If you see an ingredient that ends in “paraben,” steer clear.

Multi-strain Probiotic Reduces Risk of Antibiotic-Associated Diarrhea

Filed in Antibiotics, Diarrhea, General, Probiotics & Gut Flora | Posted by Brenda Watson on 01/29/2014


A multi-strain probiotic has been found to reduce the risk of antibiotic-associated diarrhea (AAD) and reduce gastrointestinal symptoms in hospitalized patients taking antibiotics according to a recent study published in the journal Vaccine. The formulation contained four strains of Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus and was taken daily up to seven days after the final antibiotic dosage.

Those patients taking a higher dosage of probiotics (17 billion CFUs daily) were at decreased risk of AAD and also experienced less fever, abdominal pain, and bloating, as well as had a decreased number of liquid stools and duration of diarrhea when compared to those receiving low-dose probiotics (4 billion CFUs daily). And the low-dose group still fared better than those patients receiving only placebo. “The results indicate that the higher tested dose is more efficacious than they lower lose in reducing AAD symptoms, duration, and incidence in a hospital setting,” noted the researchers.

Antibiotic-associated diarrhea is one of the conditions most benefitted by probiotic supplementation, according to studies. Because antibiotics disrupt the balance of beneficial bacteria in the gut (remember that the word antibiotics means “against life” and probiotics means “for life”), digestive disruptions often occur along with antibiotic use. By replenishing beneficial probiotic bacteria during antibiotic use, these digestive disruptions can be avoided, as illustrated by this study.

If you are prescribed antibiotics, it would be wise to take probiotics as well. Just remember to take them at a different time of day than the antibiotics so that their chance of survival is increased.

“The Little Book of Thin” Author Says Probiotics are Essential

Filed in Digestive Health, General, Probiotics & Gut Flora, Weight Loss | Posted by Brenda Watson on 01/27/2014


When it comes to nutrition and digestive care, I love to meet others who share my enthusiasm for helping people live healthier every day—and one of those people is author and nutritionist Lauren Slayton.

Lauren is the founder of New York City-based Foodtrainers™ and her new book, The Little Book of Thin, will make you think twice about diving into the next fad diet by revealing the truth about why most food plans fall short. And guess what? Lauren is as passionate as I am about probiotics—especially when talking about the link between intestinal bacteria and sugar cravings.

In Chapter Five, aptly titled The Witching Hour, Lauren talks about those pesky late afternoon cravings (the sweet ones in particular) and explains that fermented foods can increase the amount of good bacteria in the gut, which actually helps to enhance mood and reduce cravings. She recommends adding more of these foods to the diet, but when supply is short? Check out her advice on page 59:

“Supplements may be a good alternative if you don’t have access to fermented foods or want a backup plan,” says Lauren. She includes probiotics in her list of Food First-Aid Kit Essentials (see pages 123 & 124) and says to look for a number greater than 20 billion live cultures on the label. She also recommends probiotics for travel-related “tummy turbulence.”

Of course, weight loss is about more than just probiotics, but having the right tools is big part of being successful—and those tools can help you overcome the challenges along the way. The key to living thintastically ever after, says Lauren, is planning ahead and being prepared for the daily obstacles that can thwart your weight loss efforts. “If nutrition knowledge equaled weight loss, we would all be thin. We know what to eat until life gets in the way.” So true!

Pick up your copy of The Little Book of Thin by Lauren Slayton, MS, RD today, and be sure to add a probiotic supplement to your Food First-Aid Kit!

Unregulated Contaminants Found in Drinking Water

Filed in Environmental Toxins, General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 01/24/2014


Eighteen unregulated chemicals were found in drinking water from over one-third of US water utilities surveyed, according to a recent study performed by the US Geological Survey (USGS) and the Environmental Protection Agency. Fortunately, chemical concentrations were low. But the long-term consequences of low-level exposure to these chemicals is unknown.

Of particular concern are the chemicals on the EPA’s list of chemicals under consideration for drinking water regulation: the metal strontium, the herbicide metolachlor, PFOS (perfluorooctanesulfonic acid), and PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid). PFOS and PFOA are found in nonstick and stain-resistant food packaging, fabrics, and cookware, and have been found in the blood of nearly all people in the United States. Do you cook with nonstick pans? It’s a major source.

“We’re hoping through this work the EPA will do a much more intensive contaminant candidate list and develop new methods and requirements for drinking water plants,” noted a USGS scientist.

I recommend drinking filtered water because, as you can see, we just don’t know what’s in our tap water. Reverse osmosis water filters are considered the best because they are able to remove the most toxins. But if you do not want to pay the price for this filter, there are many options that are all better than not filtering at all.

Fiber, Gut Microbes, and Inflammation

Filed in Dietary Fiber, Inflammation, Probiotics & Gut Flora | Posted by lsmith on 01/22/2014


When you consider that the human colon houses many trillions of bacteria, you have to wonder at the immune system’s complexity. The intestinal lining houses the gut-associated lymphoid tissue (GALT), which makes up the majority of your immune system. And yet, even though the only separation between these bacteria and the immune system is a one-cell thick layer called the epithelial lining, there remains a mutual agreement between them, at least in a healthy gut.

Normally, the immune system is programmed to recognize bacteria as foreign and mounts an inflammatory response against the invader as a way to protect the body from infection. But the bacteria in the intestines enjoy protection from this inflammation. Scientists believe that this protection comes, at least in part, by way of the effects of the short-chain fatty acids butyrate, propionate, and acetate produced by beneficial gut bacteria.

Butyrate in particular is well known for its beneficial effects on the cells that line the colon. Butyrate nourishes the intestinal lining, providing energy to the cells so that they remain intact and replicate appropriately. Butyrate is also known to protect these cells from turning cancerous, and quells inflammation in the colon. Propionate is known to lower lipogenesis (the production of fats), serum cholesterol levels, and carcinogenesis (the production of cancer cells).1

Gut bacteria in the colon have been found to call forth a particular cell receptor—known as Slc5a8—to the epithelial lining.2 When that happens, butyrate and propionate enter the cell through the receptor and get into dendritic cells. Dendritic cells are found underneath the epithelial lining and are able to extend an appendage between the epithelial cells in order to grab certain contents in the colon and then present them to the immune system. Once butyrate and propionate are grabbed by a dendritic cell, they are able to reprogram genes within the cell to prevent the dendritic cells from upregulating immunity and triggering inflammation.

The biochemistry of this research is complex, but it paints a beautiful picture of the intricate goings on inside the vast ecosystem that is our gut. The bottom line from this research is that if you do not eat enough fiber in your diet then your beneficial gut bacteria won’t have enough fiber. As a result, your gut bacteria will not produce enough protective SCFAs and may become inflamed as your immune system inappropriately responds to your gut microbes.

 

References

  1. Hosseini E, Grootaert C, Verstraete W, et al., “Propionate as a health-promoting microbial metabolite in the human gut.” Nutr Rev. 2011 May;69(5):245-58.
  2. Singh N, Thangarajou N, Prasad PD, et al., “Blockade of dendritic cell development by bacterial fermentation products butyrate and propionate through a transporter (Slc5a8)-dependent inhibition of histone deacetylases.” J Biol Chem. 2010 Sep 3;285(36):27601-8.

Junk Food Impairs Memory within One Week

Filed in Brain, General, Inflammation, Obesity, Omega-3 & Fish Oil, Sugar | Posted by Brenda Watson on 01/20/2014


A diet high in sugar and fat (including cakes, chips, and biscuits) was found to negatively affect memory function after only one week, according to a new study using an animal model, published in the journal Brain, Behavior and Immunity. The researchers also found similar effects of a healthy diet that included access to sugar water, which suggests that the sugar may be responsible for the negative effects.

The junk-food diet was also associated with inflammation in the hippocampal region of the brain, which is the area responsible for memory. “We know that obesity causes inflammation in the body, but we didn’t realize until recently that it also causes changes in the brain,” said Margaret Morris, PhD, lead researcher. “What is so surprising about this research is the speed with which the deterioration of the cognition [brain function] occurred.”

The memory changes appeared even before any weight changes occurred due to the diet. “We suspect that these findings may be relevant to people,” stated Morris. “While nutrition affects the brain at every age, it is critical as we get older and may be important in preventing cognitive decline.”

I have blogged many times of the effects of a high-sugar/high-carbohydrate diet on the brain and memory. This study adds to our knowledge about the very real—and very rapid—effects of too much sugar (and remember that starchy carbohydrates like breads, cereals, pastas, and potatoes turn to sugar in the body) on the brain. Instead, feed your brain with healthy fats, including plenty of brain-healthy omega-3 fish oil.

Stomach Acid Blockers Linked to B12 Deficiency

Filed in Dementia, Digestive Health, Enzymes, General, Omega-3 & Fish Oil, Probiotics & Gut Flora | Posted by Brenda Watson on 01/17/2014


Long-term use of medications that block stomach acid production has been found to be associated with vitamin B12 deficiency, according to a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Vitamin B12 deficiency can lead to dementia, nerve damage, anemia, and other medical complications.

Stomach acid is required to separate B12 from food proteins so that it can be absorbed by the body. Due to this, researchers wanted to investigate the possibility of stomach acid blockers interfering with the absorption of B12. Acid-suppressing medications are among the most widely prescribed medications in the United States. Proton-pump inhibitors (PPIs) are the most common, with histamine 2 receptor agonists (H2 receptor agonists) also widely used.

“Patients who took PPI medications for more than two years had a 65 percent increase in their risk of B12 deficiency,” noted Douglas Corley, MD, PhD. “Higher doses also were associated with an increased risk compared with lower doses.” H2 receptor agonists also had a negative impact on B12 levels, though not as pronounced as PPIs.

“This researcher raises the question of whether people who are taking acid-depressing medications long term should be screened for vitamin B12 deficiency,” said Corley. “It’s a relatively simple blood test, and vitamin supplements are an effective way of managing the vitamin deficiency, if it is found.”

If avoidance of long-term use of acid-suppressing medications is possible—usually via diet and lifestyle modifications and the use of digestive enzymes—please consider it. If it’s not possible, be sure to supplement with B12 as well as probiotics, digestive enzymes, and omega-3 oils.

Sugary Beverage Consumption Linked to Endometrial Cancer

Filed in Menopause, Obesity, Preventable Issues, Sugar | Posted by Brenda Watson on 01/15/2014


Postmenopausal women who have a high intake of sugar-sweetened beverages may be at increased risk of developing the most common type of endometrial cancer compared to women who do not drink sugar-sweetened beverages, according to a recent study published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention. The women who drank the most sugary beverages had a 78 percent increased risk of developing estrogen-dependent type I endometrial cancer when compared to women who drank none.

“Although ours is the first study to show this relationship, it is not surprising to see that women who drank more sugar-sweetened beverages had a higher risk of estrogen-dependent type I endometrial cancer but not estrogen-independent type II endometrial cancer,” stated Maki Inoue-Choi, PhD, MS, RD. “Obese women tend to have higher levels of estrogens and insulin than women of normal weight. Increased levels of estrogens and insulin are established risk factors for endometrial cancer.”

For the study, over 23,000 women filled out detailed questionnaires about lifestyle, medical history, and diet. The group was followed for 24 years, at which point 595 women had developed endometrial cancer. “I don’t want anyone to change their behavior based on these findings,” said Inoue-Choi. “We need to do more study to confirm the association. But I would advise people to follow dietary guidelines and avoid sugar-sweetened beverages.”

I agree. Our sugar consumption is through the roof, and sugary beverages make up a large portion of this consumption. Fortunately, there are many great beverages that do not contain sugar. Make the switch if you haven’t already!

Omega-3 Supplements Reach the Brain in People with Alzheimer’s

Filed in Alzheimer's, General, Omega-3 & Fish Oil, Supplements | Posted by Brenda Watson on 01/13/2014


Omega-3 fatty acid supplements have been found to increase the amount of EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) in spinal fluid from the central nervous system of people with Alzheimer’s disease, suggesting that these beneficial fatty acids cross the blood brain barrier, according to a new study published in the Journal of Internal Medicine. Previous studies have found that Alzheimer’s patients have lower brain concentrations of omega-3 DHA, an important fatty acid normally found in high concentrations in the brains of healthy people.

In the study, 33 patients received either an omega-3 supplement or placebo daily for six months. Those people taking the supplement had higher levels of both EPA and DHA in cerebrospinal fluid when compared to those taking placebo. Interestingly, DHA levels directly correlated with the changes in the disease and with inflammatory markers in the cerebrospinal fluid, which suggests that the disease state and inflammation status may be directly affected by DHA levels.

“In animals, DHA dietary supplements can lead to an increase in DHA concentrations in the central nervous system,” noted Jan Palmblad, MD, PhD. “Here we show that the same applies to humans, which suggests that omega-3 fatty acids in dietary supplements cross the blood-brain barrier. However, much work remains to be done before we know how these fatty acids can be used in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease to halt memory loss.”

The research behind omega-3 fatty acids—particularly DHA—for memory and Alzheimer’s prevention and treatment is constantly growing. Dr. Smith and I have blogged on many studies in this area. From birth through old age, omega-3s play a crucial role on our overall health. If you’re not supplementing with omega-3 fish oils, it’s not too late to start.

Omega-3 Benefits Dry Age-Related Macular Degeneration

Filed in General, Macular Degeneration, Omega-3 & Fish Oil | Posted by Brenda Watson on 01/10/2014


High-dose supplementation with omega-3 EPA and DHA improves vision in people with dry age-related macular degeneration (AMD), according to a recent study published in the journal PharmaNutrition. The high-dose omega-3 supplement consisted of 3.4 grams of EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and 1.6 grams of DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and was taken daily for six months.

Age-related macular degeneration is the most common cause of severe and irreversible loss of central vision, affecting almost nine million people in the United States. Inflammation and oxidative stress play a major role in the development of AMD, which is why researchers thought omega-3 supplements might help—they have anti-inflammatory effects and are known to benefit eye health.

“Since there is no existing treatment for dry AMD, the positive clinical improvements obtained in this pilot study should be considered striking since 100 percent of the patients had an increase of at least one line of vision within 4.5 months after starting the omega-3 fatty acid supplementation,” noted the authors.

Not all studies on omega-3 supplementation and macular degeneration have found a benefit, but the authors explain that dosage may have been to blame. “We hypothesize the reason that our open label experiments with high-dose omega-3 fatty acids in the treatment of dry AMD was successful is a consequence of both (a) the increased dosage and (b) the higher levels of EPA delivered with our omega-3 fatty acid formulation.” The EPA levels in the formula were four to five times greater than in two previous studies that did not find benefit.

I have blogged about studies on omega-3 and macular degeneration in the past. Omega-3 fatty acids are important for eye health as well as inflammation. If you are concerned about these conditions, consider taking an omega-3 supplement.