• 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 .

  • Skinny Gut Diet
  • About Brenda
  • Blog
  • Shop
  • Cart

Gut Microbes Help Develop Immune Cells

Filed in Antibiotics, Digestive Health, General, Immune System, Probiotics & Gut Flora | Posted by Brenda Watson on 04/28/2014


Our gut microbes play a crucial role in the development of immune cells that help fight infection, according to a recent study by researchers from the California Institute of Technology and published in the journal Cell Host & Microbe. They began the study by comparing innate immune cells—white blood cells that act as the body’s first line of defense against foreign invaders—in mice both with and without gut microbes. In the germ-free mice, there were less innate immune cells than in mice with gut microbes, which suggests that gut microbes play an important role in the development of these cells.

Next, they investigated whether the difference in number of innate immune cells played a role on protection against infection with the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes, a food-borne pathogen that causes serious infection. As it turns out, the mice with more innate immune cells were better protected against Listeria infection than those mice with fewer immune cells (as a result of a lack of gut bacteria).

In addition, the researchers tested another set of healthy mice (with gut bacteria) by giving them a dose of antibiotics. These mice also had difficulty fighting the Listeria infection. Antibiotics tend to destroy gut bacteria, so the antibiotic treatment may have been enough to alter immune cell function in a similar way as occurred in the germ-free mice.

“Evidence that depletion of the microbiota leads to transient immune suppression suggests factors that disrupt commensal microbes, including clinical antibiotic use, may, paradoxically, be a risk factor for susceptibility to opportunistic pathogens,” noted the researchers. The authors noted the far-reaching effects of gut bacteria, stating, “It’s interesting to see that these microbes are having an immune effect beyond where they live in the gut. They’re affecting places like your blood, spleen, and bone marrow—places where there shouldn’t be any bacteria.”

Our gut bacteria are turning out to be one of the most amazing players in our overall health.

 

Gut Microbes Responsible for Chocolate’s Healthy Effects

Filed in Brain, Diet, Dietary Fiber, Digestive Health, General, Heart Disease, Inflammation, Probiotics & Gut Flora | Posted by Brenda Watson on 04/25/2014


One of the best things about chocolate—dark chocolate, at least—is that it’s good for you. Chocolate is known to have a number of health-promoting qualities, including heart and brain health benefits. In a recent study presented at the National Meeting and Exposition of the American Chemical Society, researchers discussed their findings that certain gut microbes are responsible for some of chocolate’s health effects.

They found that good microbes, such as Bifidobacterium and lactic acid bacteria, feed on chocolate. The way in which bacteria feed on chocolate is via a process known as fermentation. When good bacteria ferment chocolate, anti-inflammatory compounds are produced. “When these compounds are absorbed by the body, they lessen the inflammation of cardiovascular tissue, reducing the long-term risk of stroke,” stated John Finley, PhD, lead researcher.

He explained that cocoa powder contains antioxidant compounds called polyphenols along with a small amount of fiber. Both of these compounds are not well digested by the body, but when they reach the colon, gut bacteria metabolize them into smaller, usable, anti-inflammatory compounds that can be absorbed.

I was a fan of dark chocolate before, but now that I know what my gut bacteria can do with it—I feel even better about having a chocolate treat more often. Just remember, look for a dark chocolate that contains a high concentration of cacao and as little sugar as possible. You will likely reverse any beneficial effects on gut bacteria if you eat your chocolate with a lot of sugar.

 

Hallmark Channel Features Ultimate Flora Probiotics

Filed in Adults, Children, Digestive Health, Digestive Health Care Books by Brenda Watson, General, Heart of Perfect Health, Probiotics & Gut Flora | Posted by Brenda Watson on 04/23/2014


In case you missed it, a recent episode of the Hallmark Channel daytime talk show Home & Family featured a topic I’m pretty passionate about… probiotics! Hosts Mark Steines and Cristina Ferrare talked to renowned nutrition specialist Dr. Melina Jampolis, who shared with viewers some important facts about probiotics—including what to look for in an effective probiotic supplement.

Her advice to viewers included adding more probiotic foods and supplements to the daily diet to help maintain digestive balance and promote immune health, and during the segment she pointed out that Ultimate Flora probiotics from ReNew Life are an excellent choice when it comes to selecting a high-potency probiotic supplement because they meet key criteria: high culture count, multiple strains of bacteria, delayed release capsules and guaranteed potency.

The episode called attention to the fact that there are literally trillions of bacteria in the human digestive tract (roughly ten times more than human cells) and how a shift in the balance of good (and neutral) to harmful bacteria in the gut can have a significant impact on our digestive health as well as the health of the whole body—something I talk about at length in my book and PBS show The Heart of Perfect Health.

Be sure to tune in if you missed it!

[youtube nDvuNlYeKaM 560 315]

Great News—Colon Cancer Incidence Decreasing

Filed in Cancer, General, Preventable Issues | Posted by Brenda Watson on 04/21/2014


I love spreading the word when good news comes out. Sadly, it seems the Internet is ripe with bad news these days. Shocking headlines get more clicks, so sometimes it can feel as though bad news is all there is. Today I have some good news to help balance the onslaught of negative headlines. According to a recent report by the American Cancer Society, colon cancer rates have dropped 30 percent in the United States in the last 10 years. That’s great news, for sure.

The researchers attribute the decrease to the increase in screening colonoscopies, particularly in older adults. Only 19 percent of adults aged 50 to 75 got colonoscopies in 2000 compared to 55 percent in 2010. That’s an impressive increase. Colon cancer is the third most common cancer and also the third leading cause of cancer death in the United States. Because colon cancer develops slowly, screening for colon polyps with routine colonoscopy is one of the best ways to protect against its advancement.

Experts call for an even further decrease, however. “These continuing drops in incidence and mortality show the lifesaving potential of colon cancer screening; a potential that an estimated 23 million Americans between ages 50 and 75 are not benefitting from because they are not up to date on screening,” said Richard Wender, MD, Chief Cancer Control Officer of the American Cancer Society.

If you are age 50 or over and you haven’t yet scheduled your colonoscopy, do so today—and every 10 years thereafter unless your doctor tells you that you need more frequent screening. Sure, colonoscopies aren’t exactly a walk in the park, but they save lives. Schedule yours today.

 

Fish Consumption During Pregnancy—To Do or Not To Do?

Filed in Children, Digestive Health, Environmental Toxins, General, Omega-3 & Fish Oil, Pregnant women | Posted by Brenda Watson on 04/18/2014


You may have heard that eating fish during pregnancy is good for you. Conversely, you may have also heard that you should limit your fish intake during pregnancy. What’s a soon-to-be mama to do with all the conflicting advice? I’d like to help clear up the confusion on this important topic.

Currently, the FDA recommends that women who might become pregnant, who are pregnant, or who are nursing, along with young children all avoid fish that are known to contain high levels of mercury. Most notably:

  • Shark
  • Swordfish
  • King mackerel
  • Tilefish

The National Resources Defense Council issued a more complete list of high-mercury fish which adds to the FDA’s list the following:

  • Orange roughy
  • Marlin
  • Ahi tuna
  • Bigeye tuna

The FDA also recommends that these women and children eat up to 12 ounces a week (the equivalent of two average meals) of a variety of fish and shellfish that are lower in mercury. Five of the most common they recommend are:

  • Shrimp
  • Canned light tuna*
  • Salmon
  • Pollock
  • Catfish

Two advocacy organizations recently sued the FDA, demanding that they require labeling of canned and packaged fish to inform consumers of the mercury content. The fish industry is concerned that such labels will scare people from eating fish altogether, however. They do have a point, but I think that the more we know about the foods we’re eating, the better

There is one other important factor that they are not taking into account—which fish are low in mercury and also high in beneficial omega-3 fats? Those are the fish we need to be eating as much as possible. Unfortunately, the list is quite short. The three fish lowest in mercury and highest in omega-3 fats are:

  • Salmon
  • Sardines
  • Herring

If you are a fan of one or more of these three fish, that’s great news. Eat these fish as often as possible. If you are not—some people simply can’t take the stronger fish flavor of these three fish—then your best bet is a high-potency, purified fish oil supplement that is enteric coated for less fishy aftertaste. Look for a high-potency supplement with the IFOS label to ensure that the fish oil meets or exceeds international standards for purity, potency, and freshness.

*Not albacore tuna, which is high in mercury.

 

Changes in Gut Microbes of Infants Greater than We Thought

Filed in Digestive Health, General, Infancy, Probiotics & Gut Flora | Posted by lsmith on 04/16/2014


It has generally been considered that an infant’s gut microbial composition resembles that of an adult by the age of about 12 months. Gut bacterial composition during the first year of life is in flux, with great variation seen between infants and even within the same infant over time. A recent study is changing how we view the early establishment of gut microbes, however. In a recent study published in the journal Applied Environmental Microbiology, researchers determined that microbes in the infant gut continue to transform over the first three years of life.1

The infant gut microbial composition is dependent on a number of factors, including mode of delivery, antibiotic use, and diet (breastfeeding or formula feeding). It is known that vaginal birth, as well as breastfeeding, promotes the growth of beneficial Bifidobacteria—well-known to be protective of infant health, while suppressing the growth of harmful bacteria.

Most studies of infant microbial composition have focused on colonization right after birth, during weaning, or up to one year of age. In this new study, the researchers analyzed changes in gut microbiota of Danish infants between ages 9 to 18 months and from 18 to 36 months. They noted clear changes during both periods, but particular between ages 9 and 18 months.

During the period between 9 to 18 months, they observed an increase in Bacteroidetes species, consistent with the introduction of food. At the same time, they observed a decrease in the abundance of Bifidobacterium. Specifically, B. longum and B. breve decreased while B. adolescentis increased. This makes sense when you consider that B. longum, B. breve utilize prebiotics found in breast milk as food, while B. adolescentis does not. Lactobacillus species and Enterobacteriaceae also decreased during the period between 9 to 18 months, also consistent with cessation of breastfeeding and introduction to formula or cow’s milk.

Interestingly, changes continued between 18 to 36 months, suggesting that a change toward adult-like stability was still occurring during this period. This is in line with another recent study that found a similar occurrence.2 These studies are shaking up what we thought we knew about infant microbial development.

Infants who were breastfed at 9 months had higher amounts of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium and lower amounts of other bacteria in the Clostridium and Eubacterium taxa, changes that were still evident at 18 months, but disappeared by 36 months. The researchers also looked at physiological parameters such as measures of growth and body composition and found a correlation between duration of breast milk consumption and overall energy intake—those infants who breast fed longest had lower energy intake. They also found a link between body mass index and an increase in Firmicutes bacteria, a group of bacteria that has been linked to body fat accumulation in a number of studies.

Lastly, the researchers found considerable changes between bacterial composition during the 9 to 18 month period and again during the 18 to 36 month period. They noted two distinct enterotypes, or dominant gut bacterial types, by 36 months of age, which is in accordance with findings of two or three enterotypes in adults. The two enterotypes observed in these infants were made up of Prevotella species in one and Bacteroides species in another. These enterotypes were able to change over time, which is in contrast to findings in adults.

It would be interesting to compare the gut microbiomes of these Danish children with those of the infants in Burkina Faso Africa, where they have found bacteria in children that are non-existent in Western cultures due to dietary differences. Many of these bacteria are very good at breaking down fiber due to the high-fiber diet of this culture. In many parts of the world, children are breastfed until at least age 3 or 4. Comparing Western children to these children would help us to learn more about the benefits of breastfeeding.

More studies will be needed to better determine gut microbial changes in infants, what factors affect these changes, and how these changes relate to health outcomes. One day, we will have available bioidentical breastmilk for women unable to breast feed. Until then, probiotics during infancy may be the best bet for babies unable to be breastfed.

 

References

  1. Bergstrom A, Skov TH, Bahl MI, et al., “Establishment of intestinal microbiota during early life: A longitudinal, explorative study of a large cohort of Danish infants.” Appl Environ Microbiol. 2014 Feb 28.
  2. Yatsunenko T, Rey FE, Manary MJ, et al., “Human gut microbiome viewed across age and geography.” Nature. 2012 May 9;486(7402):222-7.

A Test for Early Alzheimer’s

Filed in Adults, Alzheimer's, Brain, General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 04/14/2014


It sometimes seems as though the research behind Alzheimer’s disease moves forward at a snail’s pace. There are still no effective medications for the disease, no way to prevent it, and little hope that it can be detected early. But researchers at Georgetown University Medical Center are trying to change that. According to a recent study published in the journal Nature Medicine, researchers were able to predict with over 90 percent accuracy whether someone would develop Alzheimer’s or not within the next three years.

The researchers created a test that identifies 10 lipids, or fats, that are found in the blood of people who go on to develop Alzheimer’s within three years. “Our novel blood test offers the potential to identify people at risk for progressive cognitive decline and can change how patients, their families, and treating physicians plan for and manage the disorder,” stated lead author, Howard Federoff, MD, PhD.

While the test is not ready for prime time—or even clinical trials—it shows that we are making some progress toward identifying this devastating disease at an earlier stage. The researchers plan to further test the lipid panel for use in people at high risk of developing Alzheimer’s so that they can investigate a therapeutic drug that might delay or prevent its development. Only time will tell what they find. For now, any progress is a step forward. But we still have a long way to go.

World Health Organization’s Recommendations to Cut Sugar Intake in Half Aren’t Enough

Filed in Chronic Disease, Diet, Preventable Issues, Sugar | Posted by Brenda Watson on 04/11/2014


In a new dietary proposal, the World Health Organization (WHO) is advising that sugar intakes drop from 10 percent of total calories to 5 percent. They base their recommendations on two papers that found added sugars increase body mass index (BMI), and diets that reduce added sugar consumption to less than 5 percent reduce dental cavities.

“There is increasing concern that consumption of free sugars, particularly in the form of sugar-sweetened beverages, may result in both reduced intake of foods containing more nutritionally adequate calories and an increase in total caloric intake, leading to an unhealthy diet, weight gain, and increased risk of non-communicable diseases [chronic disease].” The recommendation has not officially accepted but is in the proposal state.

I applaud the WHO for tightening up their recommendations on added sugar intake. Reducing sugar intake is a step in the right direction. But honestly, I believe that added sugar has no place in a healthy diet. Overconsumption of sugary foods, along with foods high in refined and starchy carbohydrates, are a major—if not the major—contributor to chronic disease. And if you have ever experienced sugar cravings (who hasn’t?), you know that there is a fine line between “just one bite” and “just ate the whole cake/pint of ice cream/box of cookies.

If you’ve checked your local grocery store lately, you will see that we have a long way to go before added sugar no longer laces many of the foods available for purchase. In the meantime, we can all make the right choices for ourselves. Read the labels of the foods you buy. Try to eat foods that are very low in sugar and that do not contain sugar (or its many derivatives) in the ingredient list.

Almonds—The Next Prebiotic

Filed in Prebiotics, Probiotics & Gut Flora | Posted by Brenda Watson on 04/09/2014


Almonds have a newly found prebiotic benefit, according to a recent study published in the journal Anaerobe. That crunchy, healthy nut you love is even better for you than you thought. Both almonds and almond skins were found to increase beneficial Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus while also reducing levels of the potential pathogen Clostridium perfringens.

The study involved 48 healthy young adults aged 18 to 22 who were randomly assigned to one of three groups. The first group ate 56 grams (about 1/3 cup) of roasted almonds each day; the second group ate 10 grams of almond skins daily; and the third group added 8 grams of the prebiotic fructooligosaccharide (FOS).

Not long after beginning the study, bifidobacteria and lactobacilli levels increased in the groups eating almond skins and taking FOS. It took longer for levels of these good bacteria to increase in those eating whole almonds, but by the end of six weeks, they, too, enjoyed higher levels of friendly bifido and lacto bacteria. “These results indicated the stimulation effects of almond skin and almond intake were typical prebiotic effects,” noted the scientists.

More studies will be needed to confirm these effects, but I bet that before long almonds will be known as a true prebiotic food. Until then, keep eating those almonds. Sprouted almonds are my personal favorite.

Probiotics Help Allergy Sufferers Feel Better

Filed in Adults, Allergies, Children, Probiotics & Gut Flora, Respiratory issues | Posted by Brenda Watson on 04/07/2014


In some parts of the country (especially here in Florida where I live) allergy season is in full swing. So many people are suffering with congested sinuses, stuffy noses, and feeling like, well, not so great. Over 11 million people in the United States are diagnosed with allergic rhinitis, or hay fever—what most people simply call allergies—each year. I am sure there are many more people who do not get officially diagnosed, adding to this staggering number.

A recent study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that people taking the probiotic Lactobacillus paracasei daily for five weeks in addition to their usual allergy medication had improved quality of life along with improved ocular symptoms (less watery, itchy, red, and swollen eyes). Improvement in specific nasal symptoms was not found, however.

“Probiotic foods or food supplements seem to be popular and widely used by subjects suffering from allergic rhinitis, however, a study under real-life conditions and in subjects receiving a medicinal treatment was needed,” noted the researchers. While they did find a benefit of the probiotic, more studies will be needed to determine whether the addition of other strains will increase the effect.

A number of probiotic strains have already been studied in people with allergic rhinitis, but most of them have been single strain studies with mixed results. Researchers have begun to look at multiple strain formulas for allergies, but we are still in the early stages of research. My hunch is that the multi-strain probiotic formulas will be more effective because they target a wider range of immune functions. I will keep you posted as I learn more.