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      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.

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      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.

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    • 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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Seafood Intake, Mercury, and Cognitive Function

Filed in Environmental Toxins, General, Omega-3 & Fish Oil | Posted by Brenda Watson on 05/30/2014


We have all heard about the nutritional benefits of fish, especially those fish high in beneficial omega-3 fats. But a diet high in fish has one often-overlooked downfall—mercury exposure. Mercury is a heavy metal that accumulates in fish up the food chain. Small fish are eaten by medium-sized fish, which are then eaten by large fish, all the while mercury bioaccumulates in higher and higher concentrations. People who eat a diet high in fish—especially large fish—are at increased risk of high mercury exposure well above the Environmental Protection Agency’s reference intake level of 5.8 µg/mL.

In a recent study published in the journal Integrative Medicine, researchers studied 384 healthy, well-educated men aged 23 to 65 in an effort to understand whether fish intake was associated with a protective or negative effect on cognitive function, and how mercury levels related to this finding. Their findings were interesting. In men with modestly elevated mercury levels who had an increased intake of fish, the researchers actually found the highest cognitive function. These findings suggest that the nutrients obtained from moderate fish intake may outweigh the negative impact of increased mercury consumption.

The researchers also found, however, that as fish intake increased—of tuna, grouper, snapper, bass, swordfish, and shark, in particular—mercury levels rose above 15 µg/mL and so did cognitive dysfunction. “This finding suggests that high levels of mercury can overwhelm the protective effects of omega-3 fatty acids,” stated the researchers. They caution individuals with a high fish intake, “in particular people who eat more than three servings of fish weekly or more than three to four servings per month of large-mouthed fish [mentioned above].”

Studies on the harmful effects of mercury are conflicting, and more research is needed to determine what levels pose risk. Although this study found that a moderately increased mercury level did not negatively harm cognitive health, the participants of the study were already very healthy, so we do not know what effect moderately elevated mercury levels would have on people in less-than-perfect health. Also, we only know what effects the mercury had on particular cognitive tests. It may affect other areas of health that were not fully investigated in this study.

I have always been in favor of minimizing exposure to mercury. If you want to eat fish, stick with salmon, sardines, and herring, three fish known to be highest in omega-3 while also being low in mercury. And to be sure you are getting enough omega-3, take a high-potency, purified fish oil supplement.

 

Diet & Sleep Habits Linked to Inflammation – 4 Important Diet Tips

Filed in Diabetes, Diet, Dietary Fiber, Digestive Health, Enzymes, General, Immune System, Inflammation, Obesity, Omega-3 & Fish Oil, Probiotics & Gut Flora | Posted by Brenda Watson on 05/28/2014


Clinical studies continue to link chronic, low-grade inflammation—also known as silent inflammation—with a growing number of health conditions and diseases. Because it can be present without being felt, this type of inflammation is particularly dangerous and can be harmful to the body over time.

Recently, a team of scientists from Texas A&M University found a link between our internal “body clocks” and the inflammatory response tied to metabolic disorders such as obesity and diabetes. It has to do with immune cells called macrophages, which control inflammatory response. Study results involving mice showed that a high-fat diet and irregular sleep disrupts the natural rhythms of our cells and tissues, which in turn triggers inflammation, fat accumulation, and ultimately insulin resistance—creating a vicious cycle.

“To promote human health, we need not only to eat healthy foods, but also more importantly to keep a healthy lifestyle, which includes avoiding sleeping late and eating at night,” said Dr. David Earnest, Texas A&M professor and one of the study’s lead authors. Here are four simple ways you can change your diet to help reduce the risk of inflammation and metabolic disorders:

  • Partner with Probiotics: In clinical studies, daily supplementation with a high-potency probiotic has been shown to support the healthy function of white blood cells and help reduce the risk of inflammation-associated metabolic disorders.‡
  • Add More Omega-3s: The Omega-3s that come from fish oil—specifically EPA and DHA—are particularly good at helping to prevent silent inflammation, in part by helping to balance out the inflammatory effects of the Omega-6 fats found in high amounts in the Standard American Diet (SAD).‡
  • Don’t Forget the Fiber: If you aren’t eating enough fiber, the good bacteria in your gut may not be able to produce enough protective short-chain fatty acids.‡ This can lead to inflammation as the immune system responds inappropriately to healthy gut microbes and treats them as harmful bacteria. Aim for at least 35 grams of fiber daily.
  • Load up on Antioxidants: Antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables target free radicals in the body, which can damage cells and tissues and trigger inflammation. Opt for low-sugar fruits such as blueberries, raspberries, pomegranates, plums and cherries, along with non-starchy veggies such as kale, spinach, broccoli and Brussels sprouts. Olive oil, raw nuts and nut butters are also a good source of antioxidants.

Antibiotics in Agriculture Impacting Microbes in Soil

Filed in Antibiotic resistance, Antibiotics, General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 05/26/2014


The use of antibiotics in raising livestock is widespread, so much so that it’s added as a growth promoter to the drinking water of many animals. As a result of overuse, the antibiotics are excreted from these animals in manure and urine, which results in the deposit of antibiotics into the soil. A recent study published in the Public Library of Sciences ONE journal revealed that the repeated application of one particular antibiotic, sulfadiazine, resulted in a decrease in the diversity of soil microbes along with an increase in harmful microbes.

“This means a loss of fertility and, thus, in the long run, a decline in crop yields,” noted Michael Schloter, PhD, lead researcher. He also commented on the increase in harmful bacteria, saying “The increase in human pathogenic microorganisms in the environment has wide-reaching consequences for human health.”

It is crystal clear that antibiotics are being overused, and that overuse has grave implications for our health. Antibiotics in personal care products, antibiotics in agriculture, antibiotic prescriptions for every little sniffle—all of these uses for antibiotics contribute to the development of pathogens more dangerous than the original bugs we sought treat in the first place. Schloter summed it up nicely when he said, “We must therefore urgently develop a new mindset as regards the use of antibiotics in animal husbandry.”

In the meantime, if you eat meat or dairy, opt for those brands that do not use antibiotics to help keep antibiotics out of our soils.

 

US Adults Not Getting Enough Omega-3

Filed in Diet, Heart Disease, Omega-3 & Fish Oil | Posted by Brenda Watson on 05/23/2014


The protective effects of omega-3 fats against heart disease are well known. In fact, the American Heart Association recommends healthy people consume a minimum of two servings of seafood (oily fish are preferred) per week, to provide an average 250 mg per day of EPA and DHA. They recommend supplementation with 1 gram EPA + DHA daily for people with heart disease. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans also recommend two servings of seafood per week in people with and without heart disease.

With all these recommendations in place, a group of researchers wondered whether Americans are actually consuming the recommended amounts of omega-3. They conducted a study on the topic, which was recently published in Nutrition Journal. They used data from participants of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2003–2008, a large, nationally-representative group of people. They found that most US adults are not meeting recommendations for omega-3 EPA and DHA intake.

Adults over 19 years of age consume an average of 41 mg/day EPA and 72 mg/day DHA from foods and supplements. Compared to a previous study published in 2000, which found an average daily intake of 100–200 mg/day EPA + DHA, it appears that our omega-3 intake is not increasing. The researchers call for improved strategies to riase omega-3 consumption as we approach the development and release of Dietary Guidelines for 2015. “As omega-3 fatty acids are deemed important from authoritative bodies, a collaborative strategy of dietary supplementation (i.e., fish oil supplements), food fortification, in addition to food sources (i.e., fish consumption) may need to be considered to achieve recommendations in the American population and to have significant and beneficial public health impact.

We are simply not eating enough omega-3, but that doesn’t surprise me. Most people do not eat oily fish twice weekly. And even if they do, they are getting about 250 mg/day, which is the bare minimum recommended intake in healthy people. If you are dealing with a health issue, you will need at the very least 1,000 mg daily. You would have to eat oily fish every single day to get that amount. That’s why I am such a supporter of high-potency, purified fish oil supplements. It’s the easiest way to ensure that you are getting enough omega-3 each day.

 

Organic Diet Significantly Reduces Pesticide Levels

Filed in Diet, Environmental Toxins, Organic | Posted by Brenda Watson on 05/21/2014


America’s toxic burden may not be getting any lighter, but that doesn’t mean we’re defenseless in the war against toxins. There are simple steps we can take every day to protect our bodies, such as investing in household air and water filters, choosing natural cleaners and personal care products, and opting for organically grown foods whenever possible.

A recent study out of  RMIT University in Australia—one of the first studies of its kind to look at the effects of organic diets on pesticide levels in adults—found that just one week on an organic diet was shown to reduce pesticide levels by nearly 90 percent.

Dr. Liza Oates and a team of researchers followed more than a dozen adults for a period of two weeks, during which time participants spent one week on an 80% organic diet and one week on an 80% “conventional” diet. According to Dr. Oates, organophosphate pesticides—a type of neurotoxin shown to have damaging effects on the human nervous system—are used widely in conventional food production.

After each week, urine samples were taken from the participants and tested for dialkylphosphates (DAPs), which are produced in the body as it metabolizes organophosphate pesticides. Results of the study, published in the journal Environmental Research, showed urinary DAP levels were 89% lower after just a week on a primarily organic diet.

“Our results show that people who switch to eating mainly organic food for just one week can dramatically reduce their exposure to pesticides, demonstrating that an organic diet has a key role to play in a precautionary approach to reducing pesticide exposure,” said Dr. Oates. If that’s not a good incentive to go organic, I don’t know what is!

On your next trip to the market, pay attention to the fresh produce, meats and other products you put in your cart and try to “go organic” whenever possible. Yes, some organic foods can be pricey, so if you can only afford some organic check out the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen™ Plus list of particularly “dirty” foods containing high levels of hazardous pesticides.

Breastfeeding Protective against Obesity When Follow-Up Diet is Healthy

Filed in Breastfeeding, Obesity | Posted by Brenda Watson on 05/19/2014


Although many studies have linked breastfeeding to a protection against obesity, not all studies agree. A recent paper published in The Journal of Pediatrics sought to determine why this might be. They considered one important factor that previous studies had not—the quality of the diet following breastfeeding. When taking this important factor into consideration, they found that breastfeeding is protective against obesity when the follow-up diet follows official recommendations that do not limit fat intake before 2 to 3 years of age.

Breast milk is rich in fat and rightly so. The first few years of life are vital to the development of the nervous system—a system that happens to be rich in fat itself. Babies need fat to fuel the rapid growth of the brain and nerves throughout the body. Many mothers may place infants on low-fat dairy thinking it’s the healthiest choice for their children, but they couldn’t be further from the truth. This diet may actually program the child’s metabolism to make do with much less fat than it needs, which could make the infant more susceptible to obesity later in life, when a high-fat intake overwhelms an unprepared metabolism.

“The beneficial effect of breast milk may be masked by a low-fat diet following breastfeeding, while a diet following official recommendations (no restriction of fats before the age of two to three years) allows its beneficial effect to appear,” noted Sandrine Peneau, PhD, one of the researchers.

This study helps explain why not all studies agree on the protection of breastfeeding against obesity. Now we know, not surprisingly, that diet after breastfeeding also plays an important role.

Celiac Disease Linked to Higher Risk of Heart Disease

Filed in Adults, Celiac Disease, Diet, Digestive Health, General, Heart Disease, Heartburn, Inflammation | Posted by Brenda Watson on 05/16/2014


A new study has discovered a link between celiac disease and heart disease, a previously unknown relationship that will likely change the way doctors treat celiac patients. The study found that those people with celiac disease—even people under 65 years—were at increased risk of developing coronary artery disease when compared to controls.

While these findings were surprising to the researchers, they do not surprise me at all. The gut is the foundation for overall health. When digestion is not optimal, inflammation usually results, which moves from the digestive tract into systemic circulation and can affect all areas of the body. I have been talking about this gut connection for many years now. I’m glad to see that scientists are also coming to the same conclusions. (Better late than never, right?)

“People with celiac disease have some persistent low-grade inflammation in the gut that can spill immune mediators into the bloodstream, which can then accelerate the process of atherosclerosis and, in turn, coronary artery disease,” noted R.D. Gujulapalli, MD, co-author of the study. “Our findings reinforce the idea that chronic inflammation, whether it’s from an infection or a disease, can have an adverse role in coronary artery disease and heart health in general.”

This gentleman could not be more correct. He’s talking about the gut connection to chronic disease. And I want you to know that it’s not just celiac disease that works by this mechanism. Gluten sensitivity, a celiac-disease precursor of sorts, produces a similar effect. So does gut bacterial imbalance, which is present in many different digestive conditions and even present in people who think their digestive health is fantastic.

The people in the study were at increased risk for heart disease even when they did not have other markers of poor heart health. “Patients and doctors should be aware of this association,” they stated. Celiac disease affects one in 133 people, but up to 80 percent of them do not know they have it. Four times more people have celiac today than they did just 50 years ago. The researchers recommend that people with celiac disease should maintain a healthy lifestyle and be aware of cardiovascular risk factors that may arise.

 

New Appetite-Suppressing Benefit of Fiber Discovered

Filed in Diet, Dietary Fiber, Digestive Health, Fiber 35 Diet, General, Obesity, Probiotics & Gut Flora | Posted by lsmith on 05/14/2014


It is well known that fiber has appetite-suppressing properties. In fact, Brenda and I wrote an entire book about it—The Fiber35 Diet. Fiber works in a number of ways to suppress appetite. Fiber expands in the stomach, taking up more space, which makes you feel full. In addition, fiber slows the emptying of food from the stomach into the intestines, which promotes satiation. Fiber also triggers the release of the hormone cholecystokinin (CCK) which sends messages to the brain that the stomach is full.

In a recent study published in the journal Nature Communications, an international team of researchers identified another way in which fiber reduces appetite.1 It has to do with your gut bacteria. They found that when fermentable carbohydrates (soluble fiber, in particular) are converted into acetate (a short-chain fatty acid produced when gut bacteria ferment the fiber), appetite is curbed. “Our research has shown that the release of acetate is central to how fiber suppresses our appetite and this could help scientists to tackle overeating,” noted Gary Frost, PhD, lead researcher.

Using an animal model, they first tested the ability of inulin—a soluble fiber known to have prebiotic effects—to promote weight loss when compared to cellulose, an insoluble fiber that is not fermented by gut bacteria. Inulin did lead to weight loss, which was not surprising because it has been found to do so in a number of animal and human studies. Next, they tracked the production of acetate in the gut as a result of colonic fermentation of inulin. They found that from the colon, acetate entered systemic circulation and concentrated in the liver, heart, and the brain. In the brain, it concentrated in the hypothalamus, an area of the brain that controls hunger.

“From this we could clearly see that the acetate accumulates in the hypothalamus after fiber has been digested. The acetate then triggers a series of chemical events in the hypothalamus leading to the firing of pro-opiomelanocortn (POMPC) neurons, which are known to suppress appetite,” stated Sebastian Cerdan, PhD, one of the researchers.

To confirm that it was acetate, and not another compound, that contributed to weight loss, they administered acetate directly and found that it reduced food intake and led to a number of changes that trigger appetite suppression. “It’s exciting that we have started to really understand what lies behind fiber’s natural ability to suppress our appetite and identified acetate as essential to the process. In the context of the growing rates of obesity in western countries, the findings of the research could inform potential methods to prevent weight gain,” noted Jimmy Bell, PhD, another of the study’s authors.

I think this finding of satiety when consuming fiber points back to the natural order of things. By most all accounts, ancient man—as well as modern man—living in jungles and rural agrarian communities (outside of USA and Western countries in general) consume 60 to 80 grams of fiber daily. Acetate levels in these populations are high which promotes satiety and majorly balances immunity.2

Could it be we were meant to eat a high-fiber, plant-based diet to live a satisfied, disease-free life? Could it be that once again man’s ego has run amok by creating processed simple carbs, fake foods and sugars, which has jeopardized the future of the human race? I also think the best way to get acetate is via eating high-fiber foods that promote acetate production in the gut rather than just taking acetate. It is time for change and we can do it only one at a time with our purchasing power and example. Support organic foods and local whenever possible.

References

  1. Frost G, Sleeth ML, Sahuri-Arisoylu M, et al., “The short-chain fatty acid acetate reduces appetite via a central homeostatic mechanism.” Nat Commun. 2014 Apr 29;5:3611.
  2. Fukuda S, Toh H, Hase K, et al., “Bifidobacteria can protect from enteropathogenic infection through production of acetate.” Nature. 2011 Jan 27;469(7331):543-7.

Salt Restriction May Actually Be Bad For You

Filed in Diet, General, Heart Disease | Posted by Brenda Watson on 05/12/2014


The recommendations for sodium consumption have come under question lately. Studies have found that very low salt intake, in line with recommendations by the American Heart Association and the Centers for Disease Control may be more harmful than helpful. A recent meta-analysis published in the American Journal of Hypertension analyzed 25 studies that included almost 275,000 people and found that sodium intake between 2,645 and 4,945 mg was most protective against heart disease and death. Those people who ate higher or lower levels of salt were at greater risk.

Interestingly, average daily salt intake in the United States falls within this new healthy range. Cutting far back on salt may actually be doing more harm than good. “Our results are in line with the Institute of Medicine’s concern that lower levels could produce harm, and they provide a concrete basis for revising the recommended range in the best interest of public health,” noted Niels Graudal, MD, a review author. “The good news is that around 95 percent of the global population already consumes within the range we’ve found to generate the least instances of mortality and cardiovascular disease.”

Now that’s an eye opener! Dr. Smith blogged on a similar topic back in 2011. He suggested that it may not be the salt that was originally found to be harmful, but instead the processed foods on which all the salt is found. I agree. If you have been limiting your salt—especially if you have been limiting it below 1,500, you might want to reconsider. Here is a link to the meta-analysis. Bring it to your doctor and ask him about increasing your salt intake.

Lower Stress for Allergy Relief

Filed in Allergies, Exercise, General, Immune System, Stress | Posted by Brenda Watson on 05/09/2014


Almost eight percent of American adults have allergies, or more specifically, hay fever, also known as allergic rhinitis. It seems as though the allergies this spring are at an all-time high. A recent study published in Annals of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology found that among 179 individuals with rhinitis, those allergy sufferers under persistent stress experience more allergy flares than those individuals not under stress, suggesting that stress reduction may be a beneficial practice for people with allergies.

The researchers found that many allergy sufferers experienced an allergy flare within days of increased daily stress. They recognize the potential benefit of reducing stress, “While alleviating stress won’t cure allergies, it may help decrease episodes of intense symptoms,” noted Amber Patterson, MD, lead researcher.

To help reduce stress, and hopefully improve your allergies, experts recommend a few options:

  • Remove or reduce those things that stress you out. Learn to delegate, change your priorities, and organize your schedule to help reduce your stress load.
  • Get plenty of sleep each night.
  • Schedule some time for relaxation every day, even if for just a few minutes.
  • Exercise daily, even if it’s just a 15 minute walk.
  • Learn to meditate.

While it may seem that allergies are unavoidable, there are steps you can take to reduce your suffering. Reducing stress is an important step toward feeling better this season—and every day!