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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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Gluten-Free Diet during Pregnancy May Reduce Risk of Type I Diabetes in Children

Filed in Children, Diabetes, Gluten, Probiotics & Gut Flora | Posted by Brenda Watson on 06/30/2014


Type I diabetes, once called juvenile diabetes because it usually shows up during childhood, is a condition in which the pancreas no longer produces enough insulin, a hormone that regulates blood sugar. Type I diabetes is also known as insulin-dependent diabetes because people with the condition need to take insulin injections on a daily basis to regulate their blood sugar levels.

In a new study published in the journal Diabetes, researchers show that, in an animal model, mothers who consume a gluten-free diet are less likely to have offspring that develop type I diabetes when compared to mothers who eat a standard diet. According to researchers from the University of Copenhagen, these findings may apply to humans.

“Preliminary tests show that a gluten-free diet in humans has a positive effect on children with newly diagnosed type I diabetes. We therefore hope that a gluten-free diet during pregnancy and lactation may be enough to protect high-risk children from developing diabetes later in life,” said Camilla Hansen, one of the researchers. “Early intervention makes a lot of sense because type I diabetes develops early in life,” noted Axel Kornerup, PhD, another researcher.

The study found that the gluten-free diet changed the intestinal bacteria of the mother as well as the offspring. It is known that gut bacteria play an important role on the development of the immune system, indicating that the change in bacteria may be responsible for the protective effect

While this study is preliminary, it offers hope that we might one day be able to prevent the development of this challenging disease by simply recommending a gluten-free diet to pregnant women. Studies in humans are needed, and the researchers hope to continue the work with a human clinical trial. I will keep you posted if I hear more on the topic.

5 Benefits of Mindfulness for People with Diabetes and Cardiovascular Disease

Filed in Chronic Disease, Diabetes, Heart Disease, Mental Health | Posted by Brenda Watson on 06/27/2014


Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention to the present. It is the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something. It is a state of observation without judgment.

Mindfulness meditation is getting a lot of press lately, and for good reason. It has been found to be successful for the management of a range of mental health conditions, but its use for long-term chronic diseases has not been well investigated.

A recent study published in the journal Behavioral Medicine sought to understand the effects of mindfulness meditation in a group of people with diabetes and cardiovascular disease. The six-week meditation course taught participants to meditate on their own at home each day for 10 to 15 minutes. At the end of the program a reduction in worry and thought suppression was noted in the participants. The researchers state that mindfulness meditation could “prevent the onset of anxiety and mood disorders known to complicate medical management and self-care in people with long-term conditions.”

The researchers believe that the mindfulness and meditation intervention may have been particularly effective during the early phase of disease development or immediately after an acute event when participants’ perceived that anxiety and worry were highest. More studies are needed targeting individuals at the onset of disease.

People with diabetes and cardiovascular disease can benefit from mindfulness practices in these 5 ways:

Better eating habits. Mindful eating is an easy practice that involves paying complete attention to your food and how you feel as you eat. When you eat mindfully, you chew thoroughly, eat more slowly, and you enjoy every bite. You actually feel the moment when you become full, rather than eating past your comfort zone. (Been there, done that.)

Less stress. Mindfulness meditation practices help you deal with the challenges of life in a calmer, more effective way. Stress is a major contributor to chronic disease, and reducing it can help patients on their road to recovery. Studies have found that mindfulness meditation practices are effective for reducing stress. Mindfulness teaches you to recognize your perception so that events that once seemed stressful become less so.

Improved blood sugar control. A regular mindfulness practice can help control blood sugar levels in people with diabetes. A 2007 study found that in adult patients with type 2 diabetes, a mindfulness-based stress reduction program was found to reduce their hemoglobin A1C blood sugar levels by 0.48%. In addition, measures of depression, anxiety, and general psychological distress also decreased.

Metabolic health. The benefits of mindfulness are far-reaching. In a 2013 study, male patients with heart disease who participated in a mindfulness-based stress reduction program experienced reduced depression and anxiety as well as lower blood pressure and body mass index. 

Anxiety control. Mindfulness is particularly beneficial for reducing feelings of anxiousness. In a 2003 study of women with heart disease, a mindfulness-based stress reduction program helped the women control anxiety.

In the meantime, mindfulness meditation is an excellent practice for anyone with or without a health condition. Here is a great resource for guided meditations you can get started with today: UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center.

Increase in Fiber Intake Post Heart Attack Lengthens Life

Filed in Adults, Conditions, Dietary Fiber, Digestive Health, Digestive Health Care Books by Brenda Watson, Fiber 35 Diet, Heart Disease, Heartburn, Longevity | Posted by Brenda Watson on 06/20/2014


Eat your fiber, you have likely been told by well-meaning friends, health magazines, or possibly even your doctor (and definitely by me). While it may seem like obvious advice given the plethora of health benefits associated with increased fiber intake, only five percent of Americans are actually eating the recommended amount. That’s a terrible shame in my opinion. Fiber is one of the most important nutrients that you are not getting enough of.

In a recent study published in the British Medical Journal, people who ate the highest amount of fiber after surviving a heart attack had a 25 percent greater chance of living longer than those who ate the least amount of fiber. Every 10 gram increase of fiber intake resulted in a 15 percent decreased risk of dying during the follow-up period of about nine years.

The researchers looked at data from two US studies—one with over 121,000 female nurses and the other with over 51,000 male professionals. Of these individuals, almost 4,100 experienced and survived a heart attack. “Future research on lifestyle changes post-[heart attack] should focus on a combination of lifestyle changes and how they may further reduce mortality rates beyond what is achievable by medical management alone,” noted the researchers. Increasing fiber intake should play a big part in heart-healthy lifestyle changes.

This is not the first study on fiber’s longevity benefits that I have blogged on. Three years ago I wrote about the many life-lengthening benefits of fiber. That’s not all. Fiber also helps relieve heartburn, reduces appetite, and when taken in conjunction with exercise, reduces belly fat. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. I wrote about many of fiber’s benefits in my book Fiber35 Diet. I recommend that you eat at least 35 grams of fiber daily. If you can’t eat that much from diet alone (it can be difficult), then take a fiber supplement to help you reach your goal.

 

Bacteria and the Skin

Filed in Human Microbiome, Probiotics & Gut Flora, Skin | Posted by Brenda Watson on 06/18/2014


When someone talks about the bacteria that are found in and on the human body, the conversation usually turns to the gut because that is where the majority of these microbes are found. But the skin is an often overlooked habitat for a large diversity of microbes that are only recently being recognized as important for human health.

In a new study published in the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) journal, researchers found a difference in the bacteria on the skin of people with wounds that heal quickly compared to those on people with chronic wounds. “Our data clearly support the idea that one could swab a wound, profile the bacteria that are there and then be able to tell whether the wound is likely to heal quickly or persist, which could impact treatment options,” stated Matthew Hardman, PhD.

They also found that mice lacking a certain gene had a different array of bacteria that were associated with slower wound healing. The gene has also been linked to Crohn’s disease and is known to help cells recognize and respond to bacteria. “Taken together, our studies in humans and mice offer good evidence that the skin microbiome has a direct effect on how we heal,” noted Hardman.

While the bacteria on skin play a role in skin health, recent research has found that probiotics, when taken orally, also affect skin health. The study, by scientists from L’Oreal and published in the journal Beneficial Microbes, found that two months of supplementation with the probiotic Lactobacillus paracasei NCC 2461 (ST11) decreased the reactivity of skin in people with sensitive skin when compared to placebo. The study will likely lead to the development of a nutritional approach to skin sensitivity—a beauty-from-the-inside-out approach.

The skin is the body’s largest organ and protects us from invaders in a similar way as the digestive tract protects the inside of the body from potential invaders within the digestive system. So it makes sense that bacteria also play a vital role to the health of the skin. We will likely see that the bacteria on our skin also play a role in many different areas of health.

 

Probiotics for the Common Cold

Filed in Common Cold, General, Immune System, Probiotics & Gut Flora, Respiratory issues | Posted by Brenda Watson on 06/16/2014


Probiotics, or beneficial bacteria, have been studied for a number of health conditions, but one of the most exciting benefits of probiotics is their effect on the common cold. A number of studies have looked at probiotic treatment and prevention of upper respiratory tract infections (cold and flu, most notably). A recent systematic review evaluated data from twelve randomized, controlled trials in children and adults and found that those people who had taken Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium probiotics experienced fewer days of illness, shorter illness episodes, and fewer days absent from daycare, school, or work when compared to those participants who took a placebo.

“This paper shows that with the addition of live lactobacilli and bifidobacteria to your diet, the duration of upper respiratory tract infections (e.g. colds) could be shortened,” stated Sarah King, PhD. “Combined with results from a 2011 meta-analysis published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, which demonstrated that probiotics can reduce the incidence of upper respiratory tract infections, the implications of these findings are significant and could translate into cost savings and quality of life improvements.” The economic impact of colds is estimated to cost the United States $40 billion each year, so any reduction in the common cold is welcome.

Probiotics impact the immune system in a number of ways. Up to 80 percent of the immune system resides in the gut. The gut bacteria help to educate the immune system so that it responds appropriately. So it’s no wonder that probiotics have a beneficial effect on the respiratory tract.

 

Surface of the Digestive Tract Smaller than We Thought

Filed in Adults, Digestive Health | Posted by Brenda Watson on 06/13/2014


For as long as I can remember, I have considered the area of the surface of the digestive tract to be about the size of a tennis court—an amazing statistic when you think about it. Most of this area comes from the small intestine where fingerlike villi and microvilli extend out from the intestinal lining, greatly increasing the surface area so that nutrient absorption can be maximized over a short distance.

As it turns out, the surface area of the digestive tract is much smaller than we thought. Instead of a tennis court (or between 180 and 300 square meters) it’s more like half a badminton court (between 30 and 40 square meters). In a new study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology, researchers used radiologic investigations and endoscopic studies of the microscopic structure of the GI tract to determine a more accurate surface area of an average healthy adult.

“The gastrointestinal tract is a dynamic system that is difficult to access in the abdominal cavity, and this makes it difficult to measure. Since the past measurements were carried out either during post mortems or during abdominal surgery, when the tissue is relaxed, it is easy to obtain misleading measurements,” stated Herbert Helander, MD, PhD, lead researcher.

What to make of this new information? Helander states, “From an anatomical point of view, 30 to 40 square meters is more than enough for the uptake of nutrients.”

Further studies should be done to replicate the results of this study to make sure that what they found is correct. But many digestive health experts may need to modify what we have been saying for so many years. I’ll keep you posted if more studies are done.

 

Human Placenta Contains a Community of Microbes

Filed in Conditions, Human Microbiome, Infancy, Prebiotics, Pregnant women, Probiotics & Gut Flora, Urinary Tract Infections | Posted by lsmith on 06/11/2014


The human microbiome is vast, accounting for 90 percent of our cells. Microbial composition varies from site to site across a range of niches in and on the body. Some niches—such as the colon—are colonized by a very high number of microbes. Other niches—such as the stomach—are colonized by lower amount of microbes. There are yet other areas of the body that are thought to be sterile. One such site—until recently—is the placenta that develops in the uterus during pregnancy.

Previously, it was thought that a healthy placenta is free of microbes. A recent study published in the journal Science Translational Medicine found that placenta does, however, contain an array of microbes. They analyzed the placenta of 320 women who had given birth and found that 10 percent of the placenta is made up of nonpathogenic microbes from the Firmicutes, Tenericutes, Proteobacteria, Bacteroidetes, and Fusobacteria phyla, or groups of bacteria. Most interestingly, they found that the bacteria in placenta is made up of a unique community that most resembles bacteria from the mouth, which may help explain the connection between periodontal disease and preterm birth. Only one participant of the study had periodontal disease, however, so further studies will be needed to determine whether periodontal pathogens are transmitted to placenta.

The study also found that women who had urinary tract infections during early pregnancy were at higher risk of premature birth, and the infectious bacteria turned up in the placenta even when the infection was cured. The researchers are not sure whether it was the infection or if it was the antibiotic treatment of the infection that had an effect on preterm birth.

It appeared as though vaginal gut bacterial colonization, maternal obesity, or mode of delivery were not linked to the composition of placental bacteria. More studies will be needed to determine just what role these bacteria play, how they are acquired, and whether they contribute to the development of gut bacteria in the infants.

It is not a surprise to me that placenta contains bacteria. Studies have previously found that commensal bacteria exist in umbilical cord blood of healthy neonates,2 and I have long suspected that infants receive the benefit of their mother’s bacteria even before birth.  Another recent study found DNA from Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium in the placenta of newborn infants. These studies will continue to elaborate our understanding of how microbes are an integral component to each and every phase of our lives. I would bet that women who eat a diet high in plant-based foods with pre- and probiotics as well as some fermented foods will have healthier babies with highly educated gut and immune systems trained in utero by mom’s beneficial bacteria.

References

  1. Aagaard K, Ma J, Antony K, et al., “The placenta harbors a unique microbiome.” Sci Transl Med. 2014 May 21;237(6):ra65.
  2. Jimenez E, Fernandez S, and Marin ML, et al. “Isolation of commensal bacteria from umbilical cord blood of healthy neonates born by cesarean section.” Curr Microbiol. 2005 Oct;51(4):270-4.

Antibacterial Soap Ingredients Increase Breast Cancer Cell Growth

Filed in Allergies, Antibiotic resistance, Conditions | Posted by Brenda Watson on 06/09/2014


Antibacterial soaps are found in millions of homes across the country. In an effort to “scrub away the germs,” people are taking what they think is an extra measure of safety by purchasing these soaps. Unfortunately not only are antibacterial soaps no more effective than washing with good old soap and water, but they also come with major health ramifications—a topic I have blogged on in the past.

Antibacterial soaps:

Researchers recently found another reason to avoid these soaps. The main active ingredient in antibacterial soaps is triclosan, an endocrine-disrupting (hormone-disrupting) chemical (EDC) that acts like a hormone in the body and disrupts normal hormone function. A recent study published in the journal Chemical Research and Toxicology found that triclosan, as well as another antibacterial compound called octylphenol, interfered with genes involved in breast cancer cell growth, resulting in an increased growth of cancer cells in laboratory and animal studies.

“Although the doses of EDCs were somewhat high, we did this to stimulate their effects of daily exposure, as well as body accumulation due to long-term exposure,” noted Kyung-Chul Choi, PhD, lead researcher. “Exposure to EDCs may significantly increase the risk of breast cancer development and adversely affect human health.”

Triclosan is estimated to be found in urine samples of 75 percent of Americans. In May, the state of Minnesota banned antibacterial soaps, the first step toward phasing out these harmful, yet widespread, products. I hope other states follow suit.

If you were not aware of the dangers of antibacterial soaps before, it’s time to change soaps. Washing your hands with warm, soapy water for 20 seconds is a highly effective way to remove germs from your hands. No toxic antibacterial compounds needed.

Moldy Homes and Parkinson’s—is there a Connection?

Filed in Allergies, Environmental Toxins, General, Parkinson's | Posted by Brenda Watson on 06/06/2014


It was only after Hurricane Katrina flooded her New Orleans home that mold toxin expert Joan Bennett started to believe moldy homes could, in fact, make people sick—and only because she witnessed the effects firsthand. Those effects (dizziness, nausea, headache) were actually triggered by the smell of the mold in her home, and that smell was caused by something called microbial volatile organic compounds, or MVOCs.

After embarking on a nearly decades-long study using samples from her own house to learn more about MVOCs and their potential neurological effects, Bennett and a team of colleagues recently published their findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Long story short, the researchers believe the mushroom alcohol MVOC released by mold may trigger symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. Here’s why:

Working with fellow scientists, Bennett experimented with her house mold samples using ordinary fruit flies. When forced to inhale the aroma released by the mushroom alcohol (comparable to what a human would inhale in a severely moldy home), the flies showed evidence of neurological impairment similar to that displayed by humans with Parkinson’s—tremors, impaired balance, slower movement.

What’s more, the brains of the exposed flies had “significantly fewer dopamine-producing nerve cells,” further proof that the mold odor was doing to the flies what Parkinson’s does to the human brain. And when those flies were given a common Parkinson’s drug called L-dopa? Sure enough, the symptoms resolved.

Although previous studies have made a connection between MVOCs and other health problems including allergies and asthma, the link to neurological effects has not been thoroughly examined. Bennett and her team plan to continue their research and hope to eventually test their findings in mice. She points out, however, that the health risks involved are associated with heavily water-damaged buildings (as from flooding or signficant water damage) and not from trace amounts of mold.

Antidepressant Use During Pregnancy Linked to Autism

Filed in Autism, Children, Pregnant women | Posted by Brenda Watson on 06/04/2014


There are many factors that contribute to autism. While some experts will lead you to believe that genetics are to blame, many other experts are hard at working identifying a number of environmental contributors to the disorder. I discussed many of these in my book, The Road to Perfect Health. The truth is more likely somewhere in the middle. Both genes and environment play a role in most health conditions, autism included.

A recent study published in the journal Pediatrics found that boys with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and those with developmental delays were more likely to have been exposed to selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI) while in the womb as a result of antidepressant medication taken by the mother. The study looked at data from 966 mother-child pairs with children aged two to five. Most of the children in the study were boys.

“We found prenatal SSRI [antidepressant] exposure was nearly three times as likely in boys with ASD relative to typical development, with the greatest risk when exposure took place during the first trimester,” stated Li-Ching Lee, PhD, MPH, one of the researchers. “SSRI was also elevated among boys with developmental disorder, with the strongest exposure effect in the third trimester.”

This study is evidence that prenatal exposure to these drugs may put some children at risk of developing an autism spectrum or developmental disorder. The risks and benefits of SSRI use during pregnancy should be carefully weighed by physicians because mental disorders can also be a risk to infants while in the womb. More research will be needed to determine safer treatment methods for depression during pregnancy.