• 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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Dietary Recommendations Have It All Wrong

Filed in Diabetes, Diet, General, Heart Disease, Obesity, Omega-3 & Fish Oil | Posted by Brenda Watson on 03/31/2014


You have long heard that fat is the enemy. Dietary recommendations over the past few decades have stated that fat should be greatly minimized—saturated fat in particular. Fat raises cholesterol, you’ve been told. A high-fat diet leads to heart disease, you’ve been led to believe.

The low-fat diet craze began in the late seventies with the recommendation to decrease saturated fat and cholesterol in the diet. (These recommendations were based on flawed studies and reasoning, a topic too long to cover here. I recommend the book Why We Get Fat by Gary Taubes. Or his New York Times article on the topic here.)

From there, the low-fat diet craze gained traction through the 80s and was in full swing in the 90s. We have been so entrenched in this message for so long—and lied to by established medical and nutritional agencies—that even today many people fear eating fatty foods. While Gary Taubes is one leading voice trying to turn the tables of our ingrained misperceptions, other scientists are stepping up to the plate to join him.

In a recent article published in the journal Open Heart, James DiNicolantonio, PharmD, sets the record straight about saturated fat. The main problem, he states, is that we are replacing saturated fat with carbohydrates and omega-6 fats, both of which contribute to poor cardiovascular health, the problem we are trying to avoid in the first place.

To highlight the detriments of a low-fat diet, he cited a 2008 study from the journal Lipids that found a low-carbohydrate diet reduced body fat, blood lipid levels, blood sugar and insulin levels, inflammation, and blood clotting factors all while improving good cholesterol (HDL) levels, while all of these markers worsened in people eating a low-fat diet.

After analyzing a number of randomized trials comparing low-fat versus a low-carbohydrate diet, DiNicolantonio concluded, “From these data, it is easy to comprehend that the global epidemic of atherosclerosis, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and the metabolic syndrome is being driven by a diet high in carbohydrate/sugar as opposed to fat, a revelation that we are just starting to accept.”

As for the replacement of saturated fat with polyunsaturated fats high in omega-6 (like corn oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil, and other similar vegetable oils), a 2010 meta-analyses of randomized controlled trials found that replacing saturated and trans fats with omega-6 fats without simultaneously raising omega-3 fats increases risk of death. This was confirmed in another recent meta-analysis in 2013.

That means that if you are avoiding saturated fats (found in full-fat dairy, butter, and red meat) by replacing them with vegetable oil without eating enough omega-3, then you are at greater risk of death than if you had eaten the saturated fat in the first place. Eye opening isn’t it?

DiNicolantonio summarized:

“The potential harms of replacing saturated fat with carbohydrates:

  • Increase in small, dense LDL particles. [these are the most dangerous LDL particles]
  • Shift to an overall atherogenic lipid profile (lower HDL-C, increase in triglycerides and an increase in the ApoB/ApoA-1 ratio).
  • Smaller improvements in glucose tolerance, body fatness, weight, inflammation, and thrombogenic markers.
  • Increased incidence of diabetes and obesity.

The potential harms of replacing saturated fat with omega-6 polyunsaturated fats

  • Increased risk of cancer.
  • Increased risk of coronary heart disease, cardiovascular events, death due to heart disease and overall mortality.
  • Increased oxidized LDL-C.
  • Reduction in HDL-C.”

It is going to take a whole lot of awareness to reverse the tide of fear about fat. But slowly, slowly, people are starting to get it. It’s all about eating the right fats and not overcompensating with nutrient-poor carbohydrates.

Low-Dose BPA Proves Harmful to Primates—A Model for Effects in Humans

Filed in Environmental Toxins, General, Infancy, Pregnant women | Posted by Brenda Watson on 03/28/2014


BPA is one of the most highly covered toxins by the press, and for good reason. It is one of the most widely found toxins in everyday household items such as metal food and beverage cans, plastic bottles and containers, cash register receipts, and even dental fillings. A recent primate study funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences has found that low-dose exposure to BPA alters development of infants in utero.

“Previous studies in rodents have demonstrated that maternal exposure to very low doses of BPA can significantly alter fetal development, resulting in a variety of adverse outcomes in the fetus,” noted the researchers. “Our study is one of the first to show this also happens in primates.” Why study primates? Because they closely mimic human physiology and so study results can be extrapolated to humans more accurately. What this tells us is that the case against BPA just got stronger.

The researchers found significant damage to mammary glands, ovaries, brain, uterus, lung, and heart tissues of primate infants even before birth when compared to those infants not exposed to BPA. “Our findings suggest that traditional toxicological studies likely underestimate actual human exposure and show, unequivocally, that biologically active BPA passes from the mother to the fetus,” they state.

The United States has been slow to regulate BPA, although consumers have been asking for it to be removed from certain products. BPA-free plastic products can be found, but we still have a long way to go. In the meantime, when you buy canned foods and plastic containers, purchase the BPA-free versions when possible. And if you want to be proactive, ask the stores you shop at to use BPA-free thermal receipt paper. Change like this usually begins with consumers.

A Glimmer of Hope for Childhood Obesity

Filed in Children, Digestive Health, Obesity | Posted by Brenda Watson on 03/26/2014


Have you heard the news? Obesity rates in children aged 2 to 5 years declined 43 percent from 2003 to 2012, according to a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association based on data from the CDC’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). When analyzing data from 2003–2004, researchers found that the obesity rate in this age group was 14 percent, but in data from 2011–2012, it dropped to 8 percent.

“We continue to see signs that, for some children in this country, the scales are tipping,” noted CDC Director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH. “We’ve also seen signs from around the country with obesity prevention programs including Anchorage, Alaska, Philadelphia, New York City, and King County, Washington. This confirms that at least for kids, we can turn the tide and begin to reverse the obesity epidemic.”

Reasons for the decline are not completely known, but the researchers note a few possibilities. For one, many childcare centers have begun to improve their nutrition and physical activity standards in recent years. In addition, consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages has decreased among youth. They also suggest that increases in breastfeeding rates may be partially responsible for the decrease.

Young children who are obese are much more likely to be obese as adults, so the good news could mean long-term reduction of the obesity rate in coming years. Some experts caution against too much optimism, however. “The picture will be clearer when we have a few more years of data,” stated Ruth Loos, PhD, a professor of preventive medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York.

I find this to be refreshing news. Amidst the mountains of bad news we are constantly faced with, a decline in obesity in this vulnerable population is welcomed information. But it’s only the tip of the iceberg. We still have a long way to go before we see major change in the obesity rates in this country. I’ll keep you posted as I learn more.

A Body Shape Index (ABSI) One-Ups the Conventional Body Mass Index (BMI)

Filed in Adults, Cancer, Diabetes, General, Heart Disease, Obesity | Posted by Brenda Watson on 03/24/2014


You’ve probably heard of the Body Mass Index (BMI) before—you know, the number calculated from your weight and height that puts you either in the healthy weight, overweight, or obese category. It turns out that researchers have questioned the validity of the BMI as an effective tool because it doesn’t take into consideration different body types and thus, doesn’t accurately reflect body fat.

In 2009 a medical doctor, Jesse Krakauer, MD and his engineer son, Nir Krakauer, PhD, developed a new measure that incorporates abdominal obesity—one of the main risk factors for many chronic diseases, including heart disease, diabetes, liver disease, and certain forms of cancer. They call it A Body Shape Index (ABSI). It takes into consideration height and weight, but also waist circumference, an indicator of abdominal fat.

In a recent study published in the Public Library of Sciences ONE journal, ABSI was found to be more effective than the currently used BMI as a strong indicator of risk of death. People with the highest ABSI were at a 61 percent higher rate of death than the people with the lowest ABSI. You can calculate your ABSI here. We will likely hear more about A Body Shape Index as it begins to replace the Body Mass Index as a more accurate measure of disease risk.

Chemicals in Food Packaging May Be Harmful to Health

Filed in Environmental Toxins, Household | Posted by Brenda Watson on 03/21/2014


You may not think about the chemicals used to produce the wide range of packaging that encases the foods you buy and eat on a regular basis, but it might be time to do so. Environmental scientists warn that these chemicals might be harmful to our health over the long term, according to a study published in the British Medical Journal. The scientists call this packaging food contact materials (FMCs)—as the name suggests, these are packaging, storage, processing, or preparation materials that come into direct contact with food.

There are over 4,000 different chemicals used in FMCs, and the effects of these chemicals on humans is not even being considered in routine toxicological tests. “Since most foods are packaged, and the entire population is likely to be exposed, it is of utmost importance that gaps in knowledge are reliably and rapidly filled,” state the researchers.

Although not legally considered contaminants, FMCs are a significant source of food contamination, the researchers say. “As a result, humans consuming packaged or processed foods are chronically exposed to synthetic chemicals at low levels throughout their lives, including the most sensitive periods of development.”

They call for studies into the effects of these widespread chemicals and their associations to disease. Currently, we hear about some of these toxins—BPA and phthalates are the most common, but there are so many more that aren’t even being considered. In the meantime, when you purchase food, try to minimize packaging as much as possible. Purchase your food in glass containers—the most inert of all packaging—when possible. Just be sure to recycle!–

Omega-3 May Protect Against Coronary Calcification

Filed in Diet, General, Heart Disease, Inflammation, Omega-3 & Fish Oil | Posted by lsmith on 03/19/2014


Heart disease is the number-one cause of death in the United States. Coronary heart disease (CHD), also known as atherosclerosis, is the most common form of heart disease, killing more than 385,000 people each year.1 CHD rates in Japan are much lower than in the United States and other developed countries. One possible explanation for this difference is the high intake of omega-3 fatty acids by the Japanese, who average 1,000 mg per day compared to 100 mg per day in the Standard American Diet (SAD).2

The process of atherosclerosis that occurs in people with coronary heart disease involves a progression from endothelial dysfunction (damage to the artery wall), immune activation and inflammation. These physiological changes lead to deposits of fats, minerals (including calcium), and oxidized LDL, all contributing to plaque development with a calcified arterial wall with a fibrous cap. Finally, rupture of the fibrous plaque leads to blood clotting that can occlude (block) a coronary artery, which then causes a heart attack.

The deposition of calcium in atherosclerotic plaques is now recognized to play a large role in formation of advanced plaques (read: more dangerous plaques) in the arteries. The amount of calcium in the arteries correlates with the amount of atherosclerosis. The greater amount of calcification in the arteries, the greater is the likelihood of artery blockage.3

The deposition of calcium in the arteries occurs in much the same way as it does in bone. Researchers are trying to figure out how to prevent, halt, and reverse this process, and they are finding that omega-3 fatty acids have a protective effect. In a recent study published in the journal Heart, higher blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids were found to account for the lower incidence of coronary artery calcification seen in Japanese men compared to white men in the United States.4

Omega-3 fatty acids are well known to have a wide range of beneficial effects on the heart, including suppression of inflammation, improvement of endothelial function (remember that endothelial dysfunction is the earliest stage of atherosclerosis), reduction of blood clots, and improvement of plaque stability (remember that rupturing of the fibrous cap portion leads to heart attack).

The researchers conclude, “Higher doses of long-chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids than that used in recent randomized clinical trials of [omega-3] on cardiovascular disease [which are around 1,000 mg daily] may potentially have beneficial effects on cardiovascular disease.”

Omega-3 fatty acids—particularly EPA and DHA—are good for the heart, simple as that. If you are not taking them and are not eating salmon and sardines a couple times per day, every day, then you should consider a high-concentration, purity-guaranteed fish oil supplement.

References

  1. http://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/facts.htm
  2. Stamler J, Elliot P, Chan Q, et al., “Intermap appendix tables.” J Hum Hypertension. 2003;17:665–775.
  3. Wexler L, Brundage B, Crouse J, et al., “Coronary artery calcification: pathophysiology, epidemiology, imaging methods, and clinical implications. A statement for health professionals from the American Heart Association. Writing Group.” Circulation. 1996 Sep 1;94(5):1175–92.
  4. Sekikawa A, Miura K, Lee S, et al., “Long chain n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and incidence rate of coronary artery calcification in Japanese men in Japan and white men in the USA: population based prospective cohort study.” Heart. 2014 Apr;100(7):569–73.

 

Omega-3 Boosts Brain Health in Vulnerable Malnourished Children

Filed in Children, Digestive Health, Mental Health, Omega-3 & Fish Oil | Posted by Brenda Watson on 03/17/2014


Omega-3 supplementation greatly improves brain function in malnourished children ages 8 to 12, according to a recent study published in the journal Research in Developmental Disabilities. Many studies have been done on the brain health effects of omega-3 fats in infants, toddlers, adults, and the elderly, but the effects of these fats on malnourished children in this age range was previously unknown.

According to a 2013 US Department of Agriculture report, “Children were food insecure at times during the year in 10 percent of households with children [in the United States]. These 3.9 million households were unable at times during the year to provide adequate, nutritious food for their children.” The researchers of the omega-3 study stressed the consequences of malnutrition during childhood: “At long term, malnutrition can result in damage of cognitive functions and academic performance.”

In the study, 50 malnourished children took either an omega-3 supplement containing 180 mg DHA and 270 mg EPA or a placebo daily for three months. After that short time period, over seventy percent of the children taking the omega-3 supplement improved in coordination, processing speed, attention, perceptual integration, and executive function when compared to those children taking placebo. These results are very encouraging, and only support the need for more widespread supplementation with these essential fats.

More studies will be done to confirm these results and build upon the research. I would love to see these children take omega-3 supplements for longer than three months, which would likely yield even better results. I’ll keep you posted as more studies are done.

Heard the One about the Sausage Made from Baby Poop?

Filed in Adults, Diet, General, Infancy, Probiotics & Gut Flora | Posted by Brenda Watson on 03/14/2014


No, it isn’t the latest joke, though chances are you have heard the story in the news. But let me just clear something up: there is no actual poop in a new type of “gourmet” sausage developed recently by scientists in Spain—just a beneficial strain of bacteria commonly found in (you guessed it!) baby poop.

For those of us with the inside scoop on poop, it actually makes perfect sense. Food microbiologist and co-author of the study Anna Jofré explained in a recent interview that the two kinds of bacteria used most often in probiotics, Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, are far more abundant in infant poop than in adult excrement. Not only that, said Jofré, but they are easy to obtain.

Jofré and her colleagues at the Institute for Research and Technology in Food and Agriculture collected 43 infant fecal samples, from which they isolated three strains of beneficial bacteria. They used those bacteria to create several batches of sausage, and what they found was pretty interesting.

Of the three strains, Lactobacillus rhamnosus—a strain commonly found in yogurt and probiotic supplements—became the dominant strain, multiplying to levels of 100 million cells per gram, enough to begin to promote health benefits said Jofré and her team. And as for the taste? “We ate them, and they tasted very good,” said Jofré. (They were even a bit healthier than most types of sausage made in the region, with less fat and salt.)

Of course, right about now you may be asking… Why make sausage with baby poop bacteria in the first place? Well, according to Jofré, probiotic fermented sausages will offer consumers yet another way to include probiotics in their diet, especially for those who are lactose intolerant and can’t eat dairy products.

Increased Pesticide Levels May Increase Your Risk of Alzheimer’s

Filed in Alzheimer's, Brain, Digestive Health, Environmental Toxins, General, Mental Health, Seniors | Posted by Brenda Watson on 03/12/2014


Alzheimer’s disease is one of the most dreaded diseases of all. Many people would rather lose almost anything before losing their minds. The causes of Alzheimer’s disease are likely a combination of genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors. Researchers from Rutgers University recently found that elevated blood levels of DDE, the metabolite of the banned pesticide DDT, increased the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

People with the highest DDE levels were four times more likely to have Alzheimer’s disease than people with the lowest levels, according to the study, which was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Those individuals with a certain gene—APOE4—were at an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s if they also had higher DDE levels. The researchers suggested that people with the APOE4 gene may be more susceptible to DDT/DDE exposure. People with the APOE4 gene are already at a higher risk of developing the disease, so adding DDT exposure appears to further add to the risk.

Although DDT was banned decades ago, it persists in the environment for a very long time, and it is not banned in many other countries, so we are still at risk of exposure. “Our results suggest that cumulative lifetime exposures may be important,” stated Jason Richardson, PhD, lead researcher.

Fortunately DDT exposure is decreasing in this country, but we are still somewhat exposed to it and its breakdown products via air, water, and food. This persistent pesticide was banned for good reason, but its negative effects still linger.

Researchers may be able to use this research to later determine whether Alzheimer’s disease can be detected at an earlier stage. I hope that this study leads to more like it that investigate the link between environmental and lifestyle factors that lead to this disease. When we know more about what causes it, we will be better able to prevent it.

Bifido Probiotic Improves Immune Health in Elderly

Filed in Adults, Digestive Health, General, Inflammation, Probiotics & Gut Flora, Seniors | Posted by Brenda Watson on 03/10/2014


Daily supplementation with the probiotic Bifidobacterium lactis was found to improve immune health in elderly adults, according to a study by researchers from the University of Reading and published in the Journal of Nutritional Science. The daily probiotic was found to significantly increase white blood cell activity in the participants when compared to people who took placebo.

Specifically, the phagocytic activity of white blood cells increased. Phagocytosis occurs when immune cells “eat” bacteria cells and is one of the main ways in which infection is fought by the immune system. The aging population is more susceptible to infection due to a decrease in immune function, a decrease in beneficial Bifidobacteria, and an increase in potential pathogens, hence the importance of immune support supplements during the golden years.

“Consumption of B. lactis could potentially improve clearance of bacteria from the body without contributing to the low-grade inflammation observed in the elderly population,” noted the researchers. “Thus, consumption of the probiotic may provide long-term health benefits for the elderly by not contributing to inflammation-associated metabolic disorders while enhancing the innate immune defense against infections.”

Bifidobacteria levels decline as we age, so I always recommend a high-Bifido probiotic to anyone over 50. Bifidobacteria is such an important probiotic overall that I recommend that just about everyone take a high-Bifido probiotic, but it is even more important as we age.