• 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).

  • About Brenda
  • Blog
  • Shop

Olive Best Oil for Frying, According to Study

Filed in Diet | Posted by Brenda Watson on 12/31/2014


With so many choices of oils that can be used for cooking, it’s hard to know which one is best. A number of factors need to be taken into account, including cooking temperature, nutrient content, and taste. In a recent study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, researchers tested four different refined oils: olive, corn, soybean, and sunflower. After heating and using the oil ten times, they found that olive oil performed best against the others in stability and nutrition. Olive oil was the most stable oil when fried at 320 and 374 degrees while sunflower oil degraded most rapidly at 356 degrees.

Due to the chemical structure of oils, they degrade at different rates. Some oils are more stable than others. When oils reach a certain temperature, known as their smoke point, they begin to break down, giving off new chemicals including harmful free radicals.

Olive oil is a monounsaturated oil, which means that it only has one (“mono”) unsaturated bond in its structure. Unsaturated bonds are not as stable as saturated bonds, which is why saturated fats tend to be the most stable. Corn, soybean, and sunflower oils are polyunsaturated oils, which means that they are structurally less stable than olive oil.

Because they didn’t test extra virgin or virgin olive oils, which may have differing stabilities, refined olive oil, which will be labeled as “extra light olive oil,” is recommended based on the results of this study.

Cash Register Receipts Major Source of BPA Exposure

Filed in Environmental Toxins | Posted by Brenda Watson on 12/29/2014


If you are like most people, you receive cash register receipts on a regular basis. You may or may not know that those receipts are made of a special type of thermal paper that contains high amounts of the hormone disrupting chemical bisphenol A (BPA). In a study recently published in the Public Library of Sciences ONE journal, researchers discovered that BPA is transferred from receipts to hands, and exposure is increased when using skin care products such as hand sanitizers followed by eating fat-containing foods.

“Our research found that large amounts of BPA can be transferred to your hands and then to the food you hold and eat as well as be absorbed through your skin,” noted Frederick vom Saal, PhD, lead researcher. “BPA from thermal papers will be absorbed into your blood rapidly; at those levels, many diseases such as diabetes and disorders such as obesity increase as well. Use of BPA or other similar chemicals that are being used to replace BPA in thermal paper pose a threat to human health.”

Think of how many times you have sanitized your hands, grabbed your receipt, and sat down to eat a meal with your hands. The researchers believe that skin care products strip the hands of their natural protective oils, making it easier to absorb the chemical. Unless you need your receipt, you may want to consider declining it when you can. And avoid using hand care products before shopping if you plan to keep your receipt.

I have blogged many times about the dangers of BPA. For access to those blogs, click here.

U.S. Sugar Consumption on the Rise

Filed in Diet, Sugar | Posted by Brenda Watson on 12/26/2014


Although it might not surprise you, results of a new study show that added sugar consumption has risen over 30 percent (228 to 300 calories per day) in the last 30 years. In children, added sugar consumption has increased about 20 percent (from 277 to 329 calories per day). These increases are despite the recent declines in sugar consumption that have taken place.

“The thirty percent increase is only the average consumption among adult Americans,” noted Elyse Powell, lead researcher. “Even more alarming is the fact that the top 20 percent of adult consumers are eating 721 calories from added sugar per day, on average. This is equally alarming for the top 20 percent of children who are consuming on average 673 calories from added sugar per day.”

Wow! That’s a lot of sugar.

Recent efforts by the FDA to include added sugar on nutrition labels will hopefully prove fruitful. This country is facing a health epidemic that is fueled by sugar. In my opinion, added sugar has no place in the diet whatsoever. It is a nutrient-poor addition to the diet that only comes with negative effects disguised as a sweet treat. Don’t fall for it. Read your labels. Until nutrition labels are changed (and if they are changed), you can find added sugars in the ingredients list. But beware of the many names under which it might be hidden. Click here for a list of 56 alternative names of added sugar.

Foods high in added sugar are usually energy dense, nutrient poor foods. Meaning, they pack a lot of calories, but few, if any, nutrients. Opt for fresh foods that have not been processed for the most nutrient bang for your buck.

Fiber Supplement Shifts Gut Bacteria Toward Favorable Balance

Filed in Dietary Fiber, Human Microbiome, Obesity, Probiotics & Gut Flora | Posted by lsmith on 12/24/2014


Fiber supplements are known for a range of benefits, including the improvement of bowel regularity, regulation of healthy blood sugar levels, and reduction of appetite. Another amazing benefit of some fibers is the ability to favorably alter the balance of gut bacteria. A recent study published in the journal Microbiome analyzed the ability of two types of fiber—polydextrose and soluble corn fiber—to alter the gut bacteria of a group of healthy men.1

Twenty healthy men eating an average of 14 grams of daily fiber were given snack bars containing 21 grams of polydextrose fiber, bars containing 21 grams of soluble corn fiber, or bars with no fiber for 21 days. Stool samples were collected and analyzed using a method of DNA analysis called 454 pyrosequencing, which examines the full range of genetic information to avoid missing certain bacterial groups that sometimes go undetected using 16S DNA sequencing.

The researchers found that those participants who ate bars supplemented with polydextrose or soluble corn fiber had increased amounts of Bacteroidetes and decreased amounts of Firmicutes. These changes have also been found in studies evaluating the effects of weight loss and obesity on the gut microbiota.2

“This was of particular interest to us because other research has shown that having more Bacteroidetes may be beneficial because the higher that proportion is, the individual tends to be leaner,” noted Hannah Holscher, PhD, RD. “With higher Firmicutes, that individual tends to be more obese. It’s an exciting shift and helps to drive researchers to study these fibers as part of a weight-loss diet.”

After the fiber was discontinued the bacteria levels went back to their previous levels, suggesting that fiber supplementation needs to be continued to maintain healthy changes in gut bacteria. And of course, the researchers recommend that a healthy diet, high in fibrous foods like fruits, vegetables, and legumes be eaten daily to fully support a healthy balance of gut bacteria.

Soluble corn fiber has been found to have prebiotic effects in a previous study by the same research group.3 Other soluble fibers are also known for their prebiotic effects. Acacia, inulin, and oligofructose fibers also favorably alter the bacteria in the gut.4,5 Soluble fibers are rich in polysaccharides that act as food for the good gut bacteria, helping to increase their populations and produce beneficial compounds such as short chain fatty acids (SCFAs), which act as fuel for the cells that line the intestine.

Some soluble fibers, such as the ones in this study and acacia fiber, are better tolerated because they cause less gas, bloating, and abdominal discomfort than inulin-type fibers. In addition to the SCFAs feeding the gut lining, they also sit on receptors of the white blood cells and modulate immunity in a very beneficial and profound way.6

References

  1. Holscher HD, Caporaso JG, Hooda S, et al., “Fiber supplementation influences phylogenetic structure and functional capacity of the human intestinal microbiome: follow-up of a randomized controlled trial.” Am J Clin Nutr. January 2015;ajcn.092064.
  2. Ley RE, Turnbaugh PJ, Klein S, et al., “Microbial ecology: human gut microbes associated with obesity.” Nature. 2006 Dec 21;444(7122):1022-3.
  3. Hooda S, Boler BM, Serao MC, et al., “454 pyrosequencing reveals a shift in fecal microbiota of healthy adult men consuming polydextrose or soluble corn fiber.” J Nutr. 2012 Jul;142(7):1259–65.
  4. Cherbut C, Michel C, Virginie R, at al., “Acacia gum is a bifidogenic dietary fibre with high digestive tolerance in healthy humans.” Microbiol Ecol Health Dis. 2003; 15(1):43–50.
  5. Kolida S, Tuohy K, and Gibson GR, “Prebiotic effects of inulin and oligofructose.” Br J Nutr. 2002 May;87 Suppl 2:S193–7.
  6. Maslowski KM and Mackay CR, “Diet, gut microbiota and immune responses.” Nat Immunol. 2011 Jan;12(1):5–9.

Give a Poop this Holiday Season with OpenBiome

Filed in C. difficile, Human Microbiome | Posted by Brenda Watson on 12/22/2014


“Give a sh!t. Save a life.” Literally.

If you have yet to make end of the year charitable contributions, I have just the organization for you.

OpenBiome’s slogan, although crude, couldn’t be more true. In an effort to raise funds the nonprofit organization is educating the public about the use of fecal transplants for treatment of refractory (resistant to treatment) Clostridium difficile disease. C. diff is responsible for up to 30,000 deaths annually, and is usually triggered by the use of antibiotics, which throw off your balance of good bacteria, putting you more at risk for pathogenic infections. Studies have found that fecal transplants have about a 90 percent cure rate for C. diff, a rate much higher than the standard treatment of yet more antibiotics.

Fecal transplants are just as they sound: stool is transplanted from a healthy donor into the digestive tract of someone suffering from C. diff. While it sounds unappealing, if you are suffering from recurrent bouts of this disease, the idea of changing the bacteria in your gut makes all the sense in the world. Fecal transplants contain a rich diversity of beneficial bacteria, which is key to its success. Gut bacterial diversity is a marker of good digestive health. When C. diff takes over, that diversity is decreased—thus the need for repopulating with a rich community of good bacteria.

We interviewed James Burgess from OpenBiome for my upcoming public television series set to air by summertime next year. He and Mark Smith founded OpenBiome after watching a friend and family member suffer through 18 months of C. difficile infection and seven rounds of antibiotics before finally receiving a successful, life-changing fecal microbiota transplantation (FMT). They launched OpenBiome in 2012 to make FMT easier and faster to attain for patients and doctors alike.

OpenBiome provides hospitals with screened, filtered, and frozen material ready for clinical use, which helps to make the treatment easier, cheaper, safer, and more widely available. They aim to partner with doctors in 601 cities in the United States, which would put 90 percent of the country’s population within a two-hour drive of treatment. They also want to transition their treatments from implanted tubes to pills, which would make it even easier for patients to receive care.

They have launched an IndieGogo campaign in order to raise funds to help achieve their goals for growth. Check out their campaign to learn more about the important work they are doing.

2 Reasons to Love Your Omega-3s this Holiday Season

Filed in Brain, Depression, Omega-3 & Fish Oil | Posted by Brenda Watson on 12/19/2014


The holidays can take a toll on your body—both physically and mentally. Whether you’re entertaining at home or traveling to see friends and family, remember that your health is the most precious gift of all. Here are two good reasons to take your Omega-3s this season!

  1. Seasonal Depression? Omega-3s to the Rescue

Seasonal depression, or seasonal affective disorder (SAD), affects roughly 500,000 Americans every year, and according to the Mayo Clinic three out of every four SAD sufferers are women. Symptoms can range from mild to severe and may include sadness, anxiety, fatigue, irritability and weight gain. However, a recent review of clinical studies points to omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil as a possible way to alleviate those symptoms and help SAD sufferers endure the long winter months.

Looking at the results of several studies, including one conducted by Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and one from the New York State Psychiatric Institute, researchers concluded that the beneficial omega-3 fats found in fish oil—specifically EPA and DHA—helped ease depressive symptoms and improve mood. Vitamin D supplementation is also important, said researchers, since people suffering from depression and mental health disorders are often deficient in vitamin D.

  1. Go Easy on the Alcohol, But Just in Case…

Alcohol in excess is never good for your body, but the holidays have a way of thwarting our healthy habits. On the bright side, results of a new study from the Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine reveal how fish-derived omega-3 DHA may help protect against alcohol-related brain damage because of its natural antiinflammatory properties. In a study involving rats, results showed 90% less inflammation and cell death in brain cells exposed to alcohol and omega-3 DHA when compared to those exposed to alcohol alone.

Prenatal BPA Exposure Linked to Poor Lung Function in Children

Filed in Children, Environmental Toxins, Respiratory issues | Posted by Brenda Watson on 12/17/2014


Asthma rates in children have been climbing over the last thirty years, and experts have identified a number of environmental pollutants, such as tobacco smoke and airborne pollutants, as risk factors for the disease. Some researchers have added the hormone-disrupting chemical bisphenol A (BPA) to the list of potential risk factors for the development of asthma.

In a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Pediatrics, researchers found that every ten-fold increase in urinary BPA concentration was associated with a 14.2 percent decrease in lung function as measured by the forced expiry volume in the first second of expiration (FEV1) test. They also found a 54.8 percent increase in the odds of wheezing.

“If future studies confirm that prenatal BPA exposure may be a risk factor for impaired respiratory health, it may offer another avenue to prevent the development of asthma,” noted the researchers.

The study involved 398 mother-infant pairs, and urine samples were collected from the mothers at 16 and 26 weeks of pregnancy, and from their children each year. Raised BPA levels in mothers were linked to impaired breathing, but raised BPA levels in the children themselves was not.

More studies are needed to confirm the results and expand on our knowledge of just how this hormone disrupting chemical affects lung function in children. Until then, there are plenty more reasons to avoid this toxin.

Broccoli Sprout Compound Shows Promise for Autism

Filed in Autism, Children, Mental Health | Posted by Brenda Watson on 12/15/2014


An interesting study in children with autism was recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) journal. Researchers tested the effects of a daily dose of sulforaphane, a chemical derived from broccoli sprouts, on children with autism. They found that many of the children receiving sulforaphane experienced significant improvements in social interaction and verbal communication, as well as decreases in repetitive, ritualistic behaviors when compared to those children who received placebo.

“We believe that this may be preliminary evidence for the first treatment for autism that improves symptoms by apparently correcting some of the underlying cellular problems,” noted Paul Talalay, MD, one of the researchers.

Sulforaphane works by helping to improve the body’s natural defense against oxidative stress, inflammation, and DNA damage, as well as improve the body’s heat shock response, which is activated when the body temperature raises. Many children with autism experience improvements in their condition when they have a fever, a time when the body’s heat shock response is activated. That prompted the researchers to test the effects of sulforaphane in autistic children.

The children received between 9 and 27 milligrams of sulforaphane daily, and their behavior was assessed at the beginning of the study, again at four, 10, and 18 weeks while treatment continued, and once more four weeks after the treatment stopped. After 18 weeks, about half of the sulforaphane recipients experienced noticeable improvements in social interaction, behavior, and verbal communication.

“It seems like sulforaphane is temporarily helping cells to cope with their handicaps,” noted Talalay.

Unfortunately, obtaining enough sulforaphane just by eating broccoli would be very difficult, given the varying amounts of the chemical in different varieties of broccoli, and due to varying ability of individuals to convert precursors in broccoli into active sulforaphane.

Sulforaphane is available as a dietary supplement, however. If you find this study interesting, talk with your physician about whether it might be of benefit.

Why Eating Breakfast Every Day is a Must

Filed in Diet, Obesity, Weight Loss | Posted by Brenda Watson on 12/12/2014


Do you ever found yourself rushing around in the morning to the extent that you don’t have time to eat breakfast? Does this sound like a typical morning for you? Or maybe you skip breakfast in an attempt to lower your total calorie intake for the day. You might want to reconsider when you hear about the findings from a recent study published in Nutrition Journal.

Researchers from the University of Missouri-Columbia discovered that eating breakfast, especially a high-protein breakfast, increased levels of dopamine, a brain chemical linked to reduced food cravings, later in the day.

“Our research showed that people experience a dramatic decline in cravings for sweet foods when they eat breakfast,” noted Heather Leidy, PhD, one of the study’s authors. “On the other hand, if breakfast is skipped, these cravings continue to rise throughout the day.”

Dopamine is involved in regulating impulses and reward responses in the body. Eating releases dopamine, which triggers feelings of reward and helps to regulate food intake.

“Dopamine levels are blunted in individuals who are overweight or obese, which means it takes much more stimulation—or food—to elicit feelings of reward; we saw similar responses within breakfast-skippers,” noted Leidy.

Eating a high-protein breakfast provided the most feelings of reward and also reduced cravings later in the day in the study participants. If skipping breakfast is one of your weight-loss tactics, consider rethinking your approach. A high-protein (and I’ll add, high-fiber) breakfast is the best way to start your day. I love to eat an egg scramble for breakfast. I sauté some veggies like kale, onions, and sweet peppers, and scramble them with some eggs. It’s a delicious and easy high-protein, high-fiber breakfast.

Gut Bacteria and Leaky Brain Syndrome

Filed in Human Microbiome, Leaky Gut, Mental Health | Posted by lsmith on 12/10/2014


You may have already heard about leaky gut syndrome (increased intestinal permeability)—damage to the intestinal lining that creates holes through which travel toxins, bacteria, and large food particles from the digestive tract—all of which are not meant to cross the intestinal lining and can trigger an inflammatory immune response that enters systemic circulation and can manifest disease processes in virtually any area of the body. Leaky gut syndrome is a major contributor to systemic inflammation throughout the body, and is often triggered by an imbalance of bacteria in the gut.

While this condition is relatively well known, a lesser known condition—leaky brain syndrome—was recently investigated by researchers from Sweden. Quite interestingly, they looked at the connection between gut bacteria and a leaky blood-brain barrier (BBB). (They did not call the condition “leaky brain syndrome,” but that’s what it is.) The study was published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.1

Using an animal model, the researchers compared the permeability (leakiness) of the BBB in offspring born to two sets of mice: one set was germ-free, or lacking normal gut bacteria, and the other set had a normal, pathogen-free, gut bacterial population. As it turns out, the germ-free mice were more likely to have offspring that developed a leaky BBB when compared to the mice with a normal bacteria population.

The researchers found that the germ-free mice exhibited decreased expression of tight junction proteins occludin and claudin-5. These tight junction proteins are found between the cells that line the blood-brain barrier (and the intestinal lining). They help hold the BBB together and prevent leaking. This finding explains the increased permeability of the BBB in these mice. In addition, they postulate that it is likely that changes in the gut microbiomte later in life could also negatively affect BBB integrity:

“These findings further underscore the importance of the maternal microbes during early life and that our bacteria are an integrated component of our body physiology,” noted Sven Pettersson, MD, PhD, lead researcher. “Given that the microbiome composition and diversity change over time, it is tempting to speculate that the blood-brain barrier integrity also may fluctuate depending on the microbiome.”

The researchers were able to reverse the leaky brain syndrome in germ-free mice when they transplanted beneficial bacteria into the mice’s digestive tracts. By implanting bacteria known to produce the short chain fatty acids (SCFAs) butyrate, propionate, and acetate, which help to repair the leaky BBB (and a leaky gut, for that matter), they were able to reverse the leaky brain syndrome in these mice. In fact, just giving the animals either intravenous or intraperitoneal sodium butyrate stopped the BBB leak, suggesting that the SCFAs may be a mechanism of repair.

The blood brain barrier progressively matures during in utero development and early postnatal stages. The researchers suggest that changes in human maternal gut microbiota between the first and third trimesters2 might trigger increased nutritional demands in late pregnancy that can lead to increased BBB permeability.

Just as the gut microbiota help to regulate a leaky gut, this study implies that they might also regulate the integrity of the blood-brain barrier. The study supports a high-fiber, plant-based diet with cultured foods and pre- and probiotics to help cultivate a healthy population of beneficial SCFA-producing gut bacteria in pregnant and breastfeeding women. This will promote a healthy GI tract and normal development and maintenance of the BBB.

References

  1. Braniste V, Al-Asmakh M, Kowal C, et al., “The gut microbiota influences blood-brain barrier permeability in mice.” Sci Transl Med. 19 Nov 2014;6(263):263ra158.
  2. Koren O, Goodrich JK, Cullender TC, “Host remodeling of the gut microbiome and metabolic changes during pregnancy.” Cell. 2012 Aug 3;150(3):470-80.