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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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Higher Omega-3 Levels Linked to Preserved Brain Cells

Filed in General, Heart Disease, Omega-3 & Fish Oil, Seniors | Posted by Brenda Watson on 02/28/2014


Elderly women with higher omega-3 levels were found to have larger brain volume when compared to women with lower omega-3 levels, according to a new study published in the journal Neurology.  Researchers from the University of South Dakota tested the blood of over 1,000 women enrolled in the Women’s Health Initiative Memory Study. They analyzed the red blood cell omega-3 levels of these women, and then followed up with MRI scans of their brains 8 years later when the women were age 78 on average.

They found that those women with the highest red blood cell omega-3 levels (a measure also known as the Omega-3 Index) had a 0.7 percent larger brain volume. “These higher levels of fatty acids can be achieved through diet and the use of supplements, and the results suggest that the effect on brain volume is the equivalent of delaying the normal loss of brain cells that comes with aging by one to two years,” noted James Pottala, PhD, lead researcher.

The Omega-3 Index of the women with the higher brain volume was 7.5 percent compared to 3.4 percent in those women with a low index. As a comparison, an Omega-3 Index of eight percent or higher is considered to be protective of heart health, while four percent or lower is considered to be a heart disease risk factor. Perhaps the same can be said for brain health.

The women with higher omega-3 levels were also found to have increased hippocampus volume, an area of the brain responsible for memory. In patients with Alzheimer’s disease, the hippocampus begins to shrink even before symptoms arise.

This is a great study because they looked at the best measure of omega-3 status in the body—the Omega-3 Index. This index reflects long-term intake of omega-3, and so is a good representation for how much omega-3 is really in the body. I don’t know about you, but I would love to preserve my brain health by a year or two simply by having a higher Omega-3 Index (which can be achieved by supplementing daily with fish oil).

Sugar Cravings? Gas & Bloating? Fatigue? It May Be Parasites.

Filed in Allergies, Cleansing & Detox, Constipation, Dietary Fiber, Enzymes, General, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Parasites | Posted by Brenda Watson on 02/26/2014


Even the word parasites is unpleasant, but worse is what they can do in your gut—so listen up! Although I’ve talked about parasites before, I wanted to give you a quick refresher course. A balanced digestive environment is essential to your overall health, but there will always be organisms trying to move in and upset that balance. And when parasites move in, they can compromise immune health and your good digestion.

Just What Is a Parasite?

A parasite is an organism that lives by feeding upon another organism. Parasites living in the human body feed on our cells, our energy, our blood, the food we eat and even the supplements we take. There are several types of parasites: protozoa are single-celled organisms that are only visible under a microscope, while worms come in all different sizes, from threadworms measuring less than a centimeter to tapeworms that can grow up to 12 meters in length!

Parasites Can Cause That?

Take a look at the list of symptoms below. Do any of them sound familiar?

  • Occasional diarrhea or constipation
  • Gas, bloating and/or cramps
  • Irritability/nervousness
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Persistent skin problems
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia/disturbed sleep
  • Anemia
  • Muscle cramps
  • Teeth grinding
  • Post-nasal drip
  • Sugar cravings
  • Allergies
  • Rectal itching
  • Brain fog
  • Pain in the umbilicus
  • Bed-wetting

5 Simple Steps to a Balanced Digestive Environment

A buildup of toxins and waste material in the colon increases your risk of parasites, which is why the right diet and nutrition are essential. Here are five simple steps to promote a healthy internal balance:

1.      Eat plenty of fresh, non-starchy vegetables, lean meats and legumes, and avoid carbohydrates, sugar and starchy vegetables.

2.      Get at least 35 grams of fiber each day to help stimulate the muscular contractions of the colon (peristalsis) that remove the contamination on which parasites thrive.

3.      Consider an internal cleansing program to promote a healthy balance of intestinal microbes.

4.      Maintain a healthy balance of intestinal bacteria with daily probiotics.

5.      Supplement with enzymes and hydrochloric acid to enhance digestion and help deter parasites in the stomach.

More Evidence Linking Probiotics and Weight Loss

Filed in General, Probiotics & Gut Flora, Weight Loss | Posted by Brenda Watson on 02/24/2014


In addition to their role in supporting digestive and immune health, scientists have been looking at the link between probiotics and weight loss—and a new study out of Canada shows these good bacteria may indeed help us shed those extra pounds and keep them off.

Researchers from the Université Laval in Quebec recently teamed up with the food and beverage company Nestlé to dig deeper into how probiotics may help us stay slim by influencing the bacteria in our digestive tracts. They followed 125 obese but otherwise healthy adults for a period six months, half of whom received two pills daily of the probiotic Lactobacillus rhamnosus while the others received a placebo. For the first three months of the study, participants followed a calorie-restricted weight loss plan, but the remainder of the study was considered a “weight maintenance” period, during which participants still followed a diet plan but the calorie restrictions were lifted.

While there were no significant changes noted in the men, the women receiving the probiotics lost more weight—nearly twice as much—and more fat mass than those receiving the placebo. In addition, they showed a significant drop (25%) in the levels of leptin in their blood (a hormone closely linked to metabolism and appetite control) as well as a reduction in the number of Lachnospiraceae bacteria in the gut. In studies, this “superfamily” of bacteria has been linked to obesity.

The idea that probiotics can help us lose weight and stay slim is not a new one—several other studies have looked at the link between obesity and gut bacteria, including one study in mice that showed obese mice had a decidedly different bacterial environment than lean mice, and that transplanting specific bacteria from the lean to the obese mice actually resulted in the recipients eating less, losing weight, and storing less fat in their bodies.

Adding More Probiotics to Your Diet

Certain foods such as yogurt and cottage cheese contain probiotics, along with fermented foods like kefir (a fermented milk drink), pickled or fermented vegetables, tempeh, miso, kombucha, and sauerkraut. However, because some foods often don’t contain enough probiotic cultures or a variety of strains, many experts recommend taking a daily probiotic supplement to reap the full benefits of probiotics. Look for a high-potency, billion-count daily formula with at least 10 different strains that include clinically studied bacteria and delayed-release capsules for targeted delivery. The amount of live cultures should also be guaranteed through the expiration date, and not just at the time of manufacture.

Dietary Fiber Protective against Asthma

Filed in Adults, Allergies, Dietary Fiber, Probiotics & Gut Flora, Respiratory issues | Posted by Brenda Watson on 02/21/2014


A diet high in fiber triggers a chain reaction via the gut bacteria that protects against the inflammatory process involved in asthma, according to a recent study published in the journal Nature Medicine. Gut bacteria are known to ferment dietary fiber, a process that produces beneficial compounds, or metabolites. In the current study, the researchers found that the fermentation process in the gut produced fatty acid metabolites that entered the bloodstream and reduced the inflammation response to allergens in people with allergic asthma.

“We are now showing for the first time that the influence of gut bacteria extends much further, namely up to the lungs,” noted Benjamin Marsland, MD, lead researcher. Using an animal model, they fed mice a standard diet with a high amount of dietary fiber or a standard diet low in fiber, comparable to the standard American diet (SAD). They found that the fatty acids in the bloodstream influenced immune cells in such a way that, when the mice were exposed to dust mite allergens (a common allergen for people with asthma), the immune system mounted a weaker allergic response.

This study will lead to studies in humans to determine whether the same effects occur. In the meantime, keep your fiber intake high by eating plenty of non-starchy vegetables and low-sugar fruits. And take a fiber supplement to be sure that you reach your daily 35 grams of fiber.

Fermented Food and Mental Health—Gut Microbes are the Missing Link

Filed in Adults, Brain, Depression, General, Inflammation, Mental Health, Probiotics & Gut Flora, Sugar | Posted by lsmith on 02/19/2014


Fermented foods have been a part of the diet even before humans knew about the existence of microbes—the very organisms that make fermentation possible. Our Paleolithic ancestors consumed honey, fruits, and fruit juices in fermented form without awareness of the trillions of microscopic beings they were concurrently ingesting. Even as long ago as 10,000 years, humans were deliberately fermenting foods as a form of preservation.1 Fast forward to today and one-third of the human diet globally consists of fermented foods.2

Fermentation of food and drink by microbes increases the nutritional status of foods as well as helps preserve the food. Fermentation of cereals, dairy, vegetables, fish, seafood, meats, and alcohol are all a part of our ancestral practices. Researchers from Harvard Medical School recently wrote a scientific review exploring the connection between fermented food and mental health, recognizing the intestinal microbiota as key to this integral relationship. They stated, “It is our contention that fermentation may amplify the specific nutrient or phytonutrient content of foods, the ultimate value of which is associated with mental health; furthermore, we also argue that the microbes associated with fermented foods may also influence brain health via direct and indirect pathways.”3

The researchers discuss the recent shift away from a traditional diet toward one high in processed, high-fat, high-sugar foods. This modern, Western dietary pattern has been linked to increased rates of depression and other mental health disorders. The researchers highlight the role of the microbiota in conjunction with the modern diet on markers of inflammation and oxidative stress as it relates to mental health. “The intestinal microbiota, via a number of mechanisms, may play a role in mediating the glycemic and mood related effects of the Western dietary pattern,” they state. Furthermore, “The burden of oxidative stress and inflammation is emerging as a vicious cycle that can directly influence mood, and the combination of the two appears to be both a cause and a consequence of depression.”

Ten years ago, the idea that gut microbes could positively affect mental health was still viewed as preposterous, although it was promoted by Logan et al.4,5 Back then, they proposed that our beneficial microbes could influence mood or fatigue in the following ways (many of which have since been investigated):

  • Direct protection of the intestinal barrier
  • Influence on local and systemic antioxidant status, reduction in lipid peroxidation
  • Direct, microbial-produced neurochemical production (i.e. GABA)
  • Indirect influence on neurotransmitter or neuropeptide production
  • Prevention of stress-induced alterations are related to overall intestinal microbiota diversity and numbers
  • Direct activation of neural pathways between gut and brain
  • Limitation of inflammatory cytokine production
  • Modulation of neurotrophic chemicals (i.e. brain-derived neurotrophic factors)
  • Limitation of carbohydrate malabsorption
  • Improvement of nutritional status, for example, better absorption of omega-3 fatty acids, minerals, dietary phytochemicals
  • Limitation of small intestinal bacterial overgrowth
  • Reduction of amine or uremic toxin burden
  • Limitation of gastric or intestinal pathogens
  • Analgesic properties

The Harvard researchers go on to discuss a number of studies that have been done on the mood effects of probiotic bacteria, some of which Brenda and I have discussed here on the blog or in our books. Overall, they call for more research that helps blend the separate pathways that are currently investigating mood disorders on one hand and the intestinal microbiota and fermented foods on the other.

The authors state, “Evidence would suggest that the two major themes of these mostly separate highways of research should converge; in other words, the fermented foods so often included in traditional dietary practices have the potential to influence brain health by virtue of the microbial action that has been applied to the food or beverage, and by the ways in which the fermented food or beverage influences our microbiota . . . The clinical world of mental health involves one where consumption of convenient, high-fat, or high-sugar foods is the norm; these foods, at odds with our evolutionary past, are not only undermining optimal nutritional status, they have untold effects on the microbiome and ultimately the brain.” Well said.

Maybe it’s time to wake up and include fermented yogurt and vegetables as a part of breakfast to start the day. When traveling in Europe, you may notice many hotels have fermented yogurt included on the buffet or as an option to add to breakfast. We would do well to follow this practice here in the United States.

 

References

  1. Caplice E and Fitzgerald GF, “Food fermentations: role of microorganisms in food production and preservation.” Int J Food Microbiol. 1999 Sep 15;50(1-2):131-49.
  2. Borresen EC, Henderson AJ, Kumar AJ, et al., “Fermented foods: patented approaches and formulations for nutritional supplementation and health promotion.” Recent Pat Food Nutr Agric. 2012 Aug;4(2):134-40.
  3. Selhub EM, Logan AC, and Bested AC, “Fermented foods, microbiota, and mental health: ancient practice meets nutritional psychiatry.” J Physiol Anthropol. 2014 Jan 15;33(1):2.
  4. Logan AC, Venket Rao A, Irani D, “Chronic fatigue syndrome: lactic acid bacteria may be of therapeutic value.” Med Hypotheses. 2003 Jun;60(6):915-23.
  5. Logan AC and Katzman M, “Major depressive disorder: probiotics may be an adjuvant therapy.” Med Hypotheses. 2005;64(3):533-8.

 

Leonard Smith, MD

Dr. Leonard Smith is a prominent Board-Certified, general, gastrointestinal and vascular surgeon who had a successful private practice for 25 years. In addition to his active surgery practice, he also incorporated lifestyle, diet, supplementation, exercise, detoxification, and stress management into many of the therapies he would prescribe. Many of his patients with cancer, cardiovascular disease, and other serious illnesses did so well under his treatment regimes that he began to devote most of his career to foundational health care and preventive medicine.

Probiotics Reduce Bowel Disease in Premature Babies

Filed in Digestive Health, Infancy, Pregnant women, Probiotics & Gut Flora, Supplements | Posted by Brenda Watson on 02/17/2014


Premature infants given a daily dose of a probiotic blend were protected against the more severe forms of necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC), a potentially deadly inflammatory disease, according to a recent study published in the journal Pediatrics. NEC is the most common gastrointestinal emergency in premature infants. It involves damage to the intestinal lining that ranges from surface damage all the way to complete perforations of the intestinal wall. NEC affects 10 percent of infants born less than 1.5 kg (3.3 lb). At least 50 percent of those infants do not survive.

In the probiotic study, infants born before 32 weeks and weighing less than 1.5 kg were given either a probiotic containing Bifidobacterium infantis, Streptococcus thermophilus, and Bifidobacterium lactis or a placebo daily. Those infants taking the probiotic combination were more protected against the development of more severe NEC when compared to those infants receiving the placebo. There were no differences in the outcomes for sepsis (blood infection) or rates of death, however. Treatment with the probiotic in this susceptible population appears to be safe, the researchers found.

“We have a strong focus on infant health and support research initiatives that will enable us to make continuous advancements. The study findings are remarkable,” they stated. NEC is a serious disease that is treated in hospitals. It is my hope that more studies will be done to advance the science so that probiotic treatment can be widely available and play a helpful role in this devastating condition.

Lead Exposure Linked to Early Menopause

Filed in Adults, Environmental Toxins, General, Menopause | Posted by Brenda Watson on 02/14/2014


Women exposed to low levels of lead are more likely to enter menopause early, according to a recent study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives. The study involved 401 women from Boston and the surrounding area. Those women with the highest level of lead in their shinbone (lead is known to accumulate in bone) were five times more likely to enter menopause before age 45 when compared to women with the lowest levels, say Harvard researchers.

“Given the relation between earlier menopause and many subsequent health problems, these results suggest a pathway by which lead may contribute to the burden of chronic disease in older women.” They found that the average age of menopause for women with the highest levels was 1.21 years younger than those with lowest levels. Most interesting was the fact that the lead levels were not off-the-chart high. They were comparable to lead levels measured in older U.S. women, which shows us that even low-level lead exposure is a risk.

Although maximum acceptable lead levels in food and water have lowered over the years, many researchers question whether they should be lowered further. I have blogged on the health hazards of lead many times because I know that it can have major health consequences. Lead is a heavy metal that, once it gets inside the body, can be difficult to remove. It settles in tissues and bones, and can remain there for years and years. Minimizing your exposure to lead should be a priority.

New Look, More Clarity: FDA Announces Nutrition Facts Label Makeover

Filed in Adults, Children, Digestive Health, General, Seniors | Posted by Brenda Watson on 02/12/2014


The more we know about what goes into our food—and ultimately into our bodies—the easier it is to make smarter (and healthier) choices about what we put on our plates. So, when I heard the FDA announced plans recently to give the Nutrition Facts label a makeover to provide more clarity for consumers, I thought it was a definite step in the right direction.

“There’s a feeling that nutrition labels haven’t been as effective as they should be,” said Michael Jacobson of the Center for Science in the Public Interest in a recent press release. “When you look at the label, there are roughly two dozen numbers of substances that people aren’t intuitively familiar with.”

In reality, a lot of things have changed since Nutrition Facts labels were first introduced in the early 1990s, including what we know about nutrition and dietary guidelines, and results from a recent U.S. Department of Agriculture study show that more people are reading them than ever before.

When Can We Expect a Makeover?

The FDA has already sent proposed changes to the White House, but there’s no telling when we might see the new labels or if additional recommendations may be added. Many nutritionists and other health experts are calling for things like more clarity on serving sizes, a more prominent calorie count, and a distinction between naturally occurring sugars and those added in during processing and preparation.

And, because our understanding of healthy and unhealthy fats has changed significantly in recent years (prompting the change in 2006 to separate out trans fats on the label), some health advocates would like to see the “calories from fat” declaration removed. Others would like to see a percentage for whole wheat, as well as clearer measurements overall (in some cases, teaspoons and grams vs. just grams). I am very much in favor of giving these measurements in teaspoons. The fact is, as a population we are not used to visualizing our proportions in grams, but we sure know what a teaspoon is!

Regardless of when the new labels may appear in stores, I say it’s a good sign that more and more people are paying attention to what goes into their food—and taking charge of their health and the health of their loved ones. Stay tuned to BrendaWatson.com for more updates!

 

Probiotics Ease Colic, Reflux, and Constipation during Infancy

Filed in Constipation, Infancy, Probiotics & Gut Flora, Reflux | Posted by Brenda Watson on 02/10/2014


Infants given a daily probiotic for the first three months of life experience less colic, reflux, and constipation, according to a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics. Almost 600 infants were involved in the study, half of whom received the probiotic Lactobacillus reuteri and the other half a placebo. Duration of crying and number of regurgitations per day were reduced, and average number of daily bowel movements increased significantly in the group taking the probiotic when compared to those taking placebo.

Colic, reflux, and constipation are the most common gastrointestinal disorders during infancy that lead to a doctor’s visit and are accompanied by parental anxiety and a loss of working days. These conditions are all associated with alterations of the gut bacteria. “Driving a change of colonization during the first weeks of life through giving lactobacilli may promote an improvement in intestinal permeability [leaky gut]; visceral sensitivity [abdominal pain] and mast cell density [immune function], and probiotic administration may represent a new strategy for preventing these conditions, at least in predisposed children,” stated the researchers.

In addition, the infants taking probiotics did not have to visit the pediatrician or take as much acid-suppressing medications as those infants taking placebo. This meant that parents saved $118 on average. That sounds like a win-win situation to me.

Chocolate May Be a Source of Excess Lead for Children

Filed in Children, Environmental Toxins | Posted by Brenda Watson on 02/07/2014


Children may be exposed to lead in excess of the daily limit when consuming large amounts of chocolate, according to researchers from Israel. They analyzed lead levels in a variety of chocolate brands available globally and, although lead concentrations were below the US Pharmacopeia limit, the levels still posed a concern.

“Children, who are big consumers of chocolates, may be at risk of exceeding the daily limit of lead due to their low body weight and higher digestive tract uptake,” they noted. “They may be vulnerable to lead exposure from these products—one cube of dark chocolate can contain up to 20 percent of the lead oral limit; furthermore, chocolate may not be the only source of lead in their nutrition thus increasing the risk of exceeding the daily limit.” The researchers recommend that children eat milk chocolate or white chocolate rather than dark chocolate, which contains the highest lead levels.

Adults are not at the same risk due to their decreased absorption of lead in the digestive tract. The researchers found that lead levels in chocolate are increased during the manufacturing process rather than being inherently high in the raw cacao bean.

Until we know more, it is best to limit our children’s chocolate consumption, especially when it comes to dark chocolate. Chocolate is best treated as, well, a treat. A small piece of chocolate on occasion can be enjoyed rather than a heaping serving. Please keep this in mind as we are nearing Valentine’s Day.