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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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      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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Yummy Chocolate Holiday Splurge!

Filed in Allergies, Gluten, Gluten Sensitivity, Recipes, The Skinny Gut Diet | Posted by Brenda Watson on 12/08/2016


Chocolate Black Bean Brownies - brendawatson.com

Every year the month of December stimulates my “splurge” button – regarding different foods that is. I know I’m not alone. So I’d really like to share with you a chocolate treat I found that manages to be vegan, gluten-free and grain free. It’s even reasonable with regards to sugar content, especially depending on your ingredient choices. I’m going to provide all sorts of substitutions to get your creative juices flowing!

Let’s make some “Flourless Sea Salt Chocolate Squares”. I noticed this easy and interesting recipe first in the December issue of Canada’s Alive magazine, and decided to have some fun with it.

Ingredients

1 – 14 oz can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 – cup coconut oil, melted (better than butter for maintaining your figure)
1 – tsp vanilla extract
2/3 – cup unsweetened cocoa powder, plus extra for garnish
1/2 – cup almond meal
1/4 – cup coconut sugar or evaporated cane sugar or a zero-calorie sweetener like Lakanto
1 – Tbsp ground chia seed
1/8 – tsp fine-grain sea salt
1/4 – cup dairy-free dark chocolate chips
1/4 – tsp flaky sea salt or larger granule sea salt, with a bit extra for garnish if desired

Added fun and color on top – candy canes – crushed. Look for canes at your local health food store made with natural cane sugar and vegetable dye. Any extra candy canes can certainly brighten your tree!

Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a 8” x 8” baking pan with parchment paper, leaving an overhang for easy removal.

Pull out your food processor and puree the pinto beans until smooth. Add coconut oil and vanilla. Blend until smooth, and scrape down the sides. Add cocoa powder, almond meal, sweetener of choice, chia seed powder, and fine grain sea salt. Pulse in chocolate chips carefully. Use a thin spatula to smooth the mixture into the pan. An offset spatula may be easiest if you have one in your kitchen. If you’re adding candy canes, now’s the time to crush them and sprinkle them on top before baking.

Bake for 15 to 18 minutes, until edges appear dry. Sprinkle with flaky sea salt while still warm if desired. Cool completely in pan, cover and chill in refrigerator until cold. Remove from the baking pan using the parchment overhang. Slice into 16 squares and garnish with a dusting of additional cocoa powder and flaky sea salt if desired. (I like to make my servings on the small side which discourages overindulgence!)

These may be stored up to a week in an airtight container.
Of course, minimizing the chocolate chips will lower the sugar content, however even preparing the recipe as it is offered, each serving contains right around 2 teaspoons of sugar. While that’s not something that we on Skinny Gut Diet want to consume daily, it’s certainly a reasonable holiday splurge!

Enjoy and happy holiday~

Elimination Diet for Allergic Esophagitis

Filed in Allergies | Posted by lsmith on 08/06/2014


Eosinophilic esophagitis (EoE) involves an inflammatory response in the esophagus that causes stiffening or swelling and leads to difficulty swallowing or food getting stuck. High amounts of white blood cells called eosinophils are found in the esophagus tissue in people with this condition. In most cases, people with EoE have other allergic conditions such as asthma, rhinitis, eczema, or food allergy, or they have a family history of allergy. In fact, environmental or food allergies are considered to be the main triggers of the condition, along with acid reflux.

EoE was once thought to be a rare disease, but has recently been recognized more frequently in children and young adults. It is thought that the disease is increasing at a similar rate as other allergic diseases—asthma and allergic rhinitis.1

There are currently no FDA-approved drugs to treat EoE, but it is commonly treated with proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) and/or topical or inhaled corticosteroids that are swallowed to help reduce inflammation in the esophagus. Studies in children have found success with elimination diets, but studies in adults have not been as plentiful. A recent study published in the journal Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology sought to determine the efficacy of such diets in adults.2

Of 31 adults enrolled in the study, 22 followed a targeted elimination diet, in which foods identified as allergens by the patient or by skin prick testing were eliminated, and nine followed a six-food elimination diet (SFED) that removed dairy, wheat, nuts, eggs, seafood, and soy. The majority of patients following either diet experienced relief of symptoms as well as substantial decreases in accumulation of immune cells in esophageal tissue. No significant difference between effects of the two diets was detected.

“These strong results support dietary elimination therapy as an effective treatment for adults suffering from eosinophilic esophagitis,” stated W. Asher Wold, MD, MPH, lead author.

The study included patients for whom steroid therapy had not been effective, and its success is promising given the lack of other treatment options for this condition. Long-term steroid and PPI use is associated with many side effects, so knowing that there is an easy treatment that might reap additional health benefits given the allergic status of most of these individuals, is reassuring.

When anyone is experiencing any type of allergy it may be wise to eliminate the six foods mentioned above: wheat, dairy, nuts, eggs, seafood, and soy. This could be done for a month to see if there is any improvement. One food at a time could then be reintroduced to see if symptoms return. In general, if one chooses to eat these six allergen producing foods, they should be eaten sparingly and no more than once every four to seven days. If allergies persist and there are any problems with swallowing, it would be worthwhile to see a gastroenterologist and consider endoscopy to rule out EoE. Once again Hippocrates is correct in saying “Let your food be your medicine, and let your medicine be your food,” as long as they are the right foods.

References
1. patients.gi.org/topics/eosinophilic-esophagitis/

2. Wolf WA, Jerath MR, Sperry SL, et al., “Dietary elimination therapy is an effective option for adults with eosinophilic esophagitis.” Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2014 Aug;12(8):1272-9.

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.

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!

 

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.

Quick Facts and 9 Simple Tips for IBS Awareness Month

Filed in Adults, Allergies, Conditions, Constipation, Diarrhea, Digestive Health, Inflammation, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Probiotics & Gut Flora | Posted by Brenda Watson on 04/04/2014


April is IBS Awareness Month—a time for individuals and communities across the country to spread awareness about irritable bowel syndrome and the millions of Americans it affects every day. Coast to coast, activities and events are in the works to help people understand this debilitating disorder, its signs and symptoms, and how it is diagnosed and treated.

Quick Facts about IBS

Irritable bowel syndrome affects between 25 and 45 million Americans every day. Although its cause is still unknown, many experts believe the symptoms of IBS—which include abdominal pain and bloating along with diarrhea, constipation or both—are closely linked to the interaction between the gut, brain, and central nervous system. (It’s possible the nerves along the gut alter normal pain perception so that the bowel becomes oversensitive to normal stimuli.)

If you or someone you know is living with IBS, here are 9 natural solutions to help you take the first steps toward better bowel health:

1.     Add More Fiber. In addition to its role in heart health and weight management, fiber supports healthy digestive function by helping to absorb and eliminate toxins in the colon that may contribute to IBS symptoms.

2.     Limit Fatty Foods. Eating foods that are high in fat such as fried foods and certain meats may contribute to IBS. Be sure to consume these types of foods in moderation.

3.     Cut Back on Caffeine. Highly caffeinated foods and beverages (such as coffee, tea, soda and chocolate) have been shown to worsen IBS symptoms.

4.     Avoid Foods High in Sulfur. Some foods that are healthy—including vegetables such as brussels sprouts, cabbage, garlic, onions and broccoli—are high in sulfur and may actually trigger IBS symptoms. Opt for low-sulfur veggies such as carrots or green beans.

5.     You May Have a Food Sensitivity. Some people have IBS because they are dealing with an underlying food sensitivity. Gluten and dairy are the two most common foods to which a sensitivity may develop. A gluten-free diet, dairy-free diet, or both can help to improve IBS symptoms in these people.

6.     Show Your Digestive Tract a Little TLC. Many herbs and nutraceuticals such as marshmallow root, slippery elm, and the amino acid L-glutamine can help nourish and soothe the intestinal tract and bowel.

7.     Balance with Probiotics. Probiotics are the beneficial bacteria in the gut that work to maintain a balanced internal environment and promote optimal digestion and immune health.

8.     Drink Plenty of Water. Drinking plenty of water (at least half your body weight in ounces every day) will help flush out toxins and other harmful microbes that may be causing IBS symptoms.

9.     Try Colon Hydrotherapy. IBS sufferers—especially those with severe symptoms—may find that natural colon hydrotherapy can help cleanse the system and improve digestive health and elimination.

Learn More about IBS with the New Mobile App!

The International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders (IFFGD), which first designated April as IBS Awareness Month back in 1997, just launched a new mobile app (for iOS and Android platforms) to help people learn more about IBS, its symptoms and treatment options. The free app is called IBS Info and offers real-time information from experts in the gastrointestinal field to promote awareness and education about irritable bowel syndrome. Be sure to check it out!

The more we study and understand, the closer we come to helping millions of IBS sufferers live healthier, happier lives—so help me spread the word this month and all year long!

Sugar Cravings? Gas & Bloating? Fatigue? It May Be Parasites.

Filed in Allergies, Cleansing & Detox, Constipation, Dietary Fiber, Enzymes, General, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Parasites | Posted by Brenda Watson on 02/26/2014


Even the word parasites is unpleasant, but worse is what they can do in your gut—so listen up! Although I’ve talked about parasites before, I wanted to give you a quick refresher course. A balanced digestive environment is essential to your overall health, but there will always be organisms trying to move in and upset that balance. And when parasites move in, they can compromise immune health and your good digestion.

Just What Is a Parasite?

A parasite is an organism that lives by feeding upon another organism. Parasites living in the human body feed on our cells, our energy, our blood, the food we eat and even the supplements we take. There are several types of parasites: protozoa are single-celled organisms that are only visible under a microscope, while worms come in all different sizes, from threadworms measuring less than a centimeter to tapeworms that can grow up to 12 meters in length!

Parasites Can Cause That?

Take a look at the list of symptoms below. Do any of them sound familiar?

  • Occasional diarrhea or constipation
  • Gas, bloating and/or cramps
  • Irritability/nervousness
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Persistent skin problems
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia/disturbed sleep
  • Anemia
  • Muscle cramps
  • Teeth grinding
  • Post-nasal drip
  • Sugar cravings
  • Allergies
  • Rectal itching
  • Brain fog
  • Pain in the umbilicus
  • Bed-wetting

5 Simple Steps to a Balanced Digestive Environment

A buildup of toxins and waste material in the colon increases your risk of parasites, which is why the right diet and nutrition are essential. Here are five simple steps to promote a healthy internal balance:

1.      Eat plenty of fresh, non-starchy vegetables, lean meats and legumes, and avoid carbohydrates, sugar and starchy vegetables.

2.      Get at least 35 grams of fiber each day to help stimulate the muscular contractions of the colon (peristalsis) that remove the contamination on which parasites thrive.

3.      Consider an internal cleansing program to promote a healthy balance of intestinal microbes.

4.      Maintain a healthy balance of intestinal bacteria with daily probiotics.

5.      Supplement with enzymes and hydrochloric acid to enhance digestion and help deter parasites in the stomach.

Dietary Fiber Protective against Asthma

Filed in Adults, Allergies, Dietary Fiber, Probiotics & Gut Flora, Respiratory issues | Posted by Brenda Watson on 02/21/2014


A diet high in fiber triggers a chain reaction via the gut bacteria that protects against the inflammatory process involved in asthma, according to a recent study published in the journal Nature Medicine. Gut bacteria are known to ferment dietary fiber, a process that produces beneficial compounds, or metabolites. In the current study, the researchers found that the fermentation process in the gut produced fatty acid metabolites that entered the bloodstream and reduced the inflammation response to allergens in people with allergic asthma.

“We are now showing for the first time that the influence of gut bacteria extends much further, namely up to the lungs,” noted Benjamin Marsland, MD, lead researcher. Using an animal model, they fed mice a standard diet with a high amount of dietary fiber or a standard diet low in fiber, comparable to the standard American diet (SAD). They found that the fatty acids in the bloodstream influenced immune cells in such a way that, when the mice were exposed to dust mite allergens (a common allergen for people with asthma), the immune system mounted a weaker allergic response.

This study will lead to studies in humans to determine whether the same effects occur. In the meantime, keep your fiber intake high by eating plenty of non-starchy vegetables and low-sugar fruits. And take a fiber supplement to be sure that you reach your daily 35 grams of fiber.

Introduce Solid Food + Breastfeeding after 17 Weeks in Infants

Filed in Allergies, Children, Infancy, Omega-3 & Fish Oil | Posted by Brenda Watson on 12/30/2013


Introducing solid food after the 17th week of birth could reduce food allergies in babies who are also breastfed, according to a study published in the journal Pediatrics. The researchers found that children who had developed allergies started eating solid food before age 16 weeks. They were also more likely to not be breastfed.

“Introducing solid foods alongside breastfeeding can benefit the immune system,” stated Kate Grimshaw, PhD, RD. “It appears the immune system becomes educated when there is an overlap of solids and breast milk because the milk promotes tolerogenic [tolerant] mechanisms against the solids.” The study involved over 1,100 children, 41 of whom developed allergies by age two. Diets of those children were compared with the diets of 82 other infants who did not develop allergies.

A couple years ago I reported on a study that found the omega-3 content of mother’s diets also plays a role in the development of allergies in infants. The immune systems of infants are very much in a developmental stage—along with their gut bacteria—so supporting this delicate process is important. The more we know about how to set our infants up for great health from an early age, the better they will fare in the long run.