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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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      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).

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Bacteria or Virus? Express Yourself!

Filed in Adults, Antibiotic resistance, Antibiotics, Children, Cold and Flu, Common Cold, Digestive Health, Human Microbiome, Probiotics & Gut Flora, Respiratory issues | Posted by Brenda Watson on 03/11/2016

As this year’s flu and cold season wanes down a bit, I found it heartening to read that science is focusing on a way to distinguish between bacterial and viral infections to help limit over-prescribing of antibiotics. Over the last decades doctors have been far too willing to offer a sad and miserable patient antibiotics, resulting in killing off many of the body’s good bacteria and creating serious bacterial imbalance in their gut!

Antibiotic overuse has also created a global issue termed “antibiotic resistance” where the bad bugs appear to get stronger the more often they are exposed to antibiotics. Research shows these “superbugs” become invulnerable to our current antibiotics creating the potential for more virulent diseases – and that’s another story.

This article from the Wall Street Journal states that nearly 75% of acute respiratory illnesses are viral in nature – and there’s currently no prescribed treatment for a viral infection. Dr Ganiats, a family physician and professor at the University of Miami states “Its often hard to get a person who doesn’t need an antibiotic to accept that.” He believes testing that differentiates bacteria from virus would be very helpful.

The Duke University research is doing just that. It’s designing a blood test to determine whether a respiratory infection is viral or bacterial in nature. At this point, it’s only a research tool, and has an 8-10 hour turn-around time. The hope is to develop a 1-hour blood test that could be used in the doctor’s office. However that test is still 2-3 years away from arriving on the market.

The research focuses on how our body’s genes respond differently to bacteria or viruses. This response called gene expression will turn genes on or off depending on the type of infection present. The study follows how the genes express in the absence of infection as well. Testing genes is believed to offer more dependable results than other types of tests currently available.

In a study using a cohort of 273 that was published last month in the journal Science Translational Medicine, this test was found to be 87% accurate. It was able to differentiate whether the patient had a viral or bacterial infection, or actually was ill due to something other than an infection.

Interesting point to note, sinus issues very commonly indicate an underlying yeast/Candida infection.

Honestly, at the first onset of respiratory symptoms, I would be inclined to max out on probiotics, Vitamin C, along with immune stimulating herbs and ride it out as long as possible and appropriate.

And I realize not everyone has the health convictions I do. No matter what direction your personal choice for healing may lead you, it’s always helpful to understand the underlying issues so we can address them effectively. I’m looking forward to more of this type of testing to be available for all of us.

Please do me a favor – think twice, maybe three times before you decide on an antibiotic. Your gut and also the rest of the world will appreciate your consideration.

4 Tips to Light Up 2016!

Filed in Adults, Cold and Flu, Constipation, Diet, Digestive Health, Enzymes, Probiotics & Gut Flora, Sleep, Sugar | Posted by Brenda Watson on 01/02/2016

So now the decadent celebrations are behind us and it’s time to recommit to our healthy selves. However, there may be some leftovers in the frig, and also those delicious gifts you may have received may still be close by! If the gifts were well-sealed, re-gifting may be an option. Donation is a good idea too. Okay, I’m smiling.

I was devilishly curious, and decided to search “Favorite New Year’s Foods” on the internet. Whew! I felt bloated just reading the ideas! Between the Lobster Mac and Cheese and the Peanut Butter Parfait (peanut butter, banana and bacon with waffle cookies – aptly labeled ‘Year-End Splurge’) not to mention the various New Year’s liquid libations – all I can say is WOW!

If your holiday season included any of these type of foods or drink, your digestion and overall health may be on a downslide about now. Not only that, but with so many people out and around, you’re more likely to be exposed to winter-time bugs that could land you on the couch with a cold or the flu. And it may have been, and might continue to be, difficult to pull off eight hours of sleep each night. After all, it’s time to get back to “real” life. The holidays many times take a toll, even as we love them so much.

I’d like to suggest some crucial supplements to light up your health in 2016. If you’re not already including these in your daily routine, visit your local health food or vitamin store to get the following today. Your body will thank you.

Digestive Enzymes
Let’s start by giving your digestive system some help breaking down those higher quality foods I’m sure you’ll be choosing now. Even good foods need the help of enzymes to release and absorb the nutrients within! Why end up with a stomachache when you can plan ahead by taking digestive enzymes with every meal and snack? Look for an enzyme formula that has:  Protease for protein digestion, Lipase for fat digestion and Amylase for carbohydrate digestion.  Take with or immediately after your meals to help you digest better during your days ahead.

Up to 80 percent of your immune system is in your gut. That one fact still fascinates me to this day—and I’ve been saying it for years! The 100 trillion bacteria in your digestive system play a vital role on your immune health. Eating a diet high in starchy carbohydrates and sugar—the epitome of what might have been your holiday fare—throws off the balance of bacteria in your gut. Taking a high-potency multistrain probiotic every day will help to keep your gut in balance and your immune system in check.

Constipation Control
If you tend toward constipation, especially when your diet is less than stellar, arm yourself with an effective constipation formula. Look for a product that contains magnesium hydroxide, which acts as a stool softener that will gently, yet effectively, help to improve your bowel movements. If you are not experiencing at least one healthy bowel movement per day (and by healthy I mean well-formed and at least one and a half feet long), then you need to do something about it. A good constipation formula without harsh stimulant herbs is your best bet to get your digestion moving regularly in the first place.

Sleep Help
If you find it difficult to fall asleep at night, your body and mind could be suffering. Adequate sleep is essential for you to perform at your best and make those new year’s resolutions your reality. If you can’t seem to settle in without tossing and turning each night, a sleep formula may help you. Look for a formula that contains L-theanine, 5-HTP, and melatonin, three ingredients that will help you rest easy as you make ready for this New Year.

I wish you good health and happiness as we say “Hello” and “Welcome” to 2016 together!

Back to School Health Tips

Filed in Children, Cold and Flu, Common Cold, Diet, Digestive Health, General, Immune System, Probiotics & Gut Flora, Sugar, Teens | Posted by Brenda Watson on 08/28/2015

Goodbye to summer! I hope yours was enjoyable and relaxing.

Here in Florida, we’re hoping that the heat will lift soon. The kids are headed back to their classes and with the new school year comes the inevitable increase in colds and flu. Lots of excited little human beings in an enclosed space together, laughing, touching and generally sharing their bacteria with anyone in coughing or sneezing range.

How can we parents help to support our children’s immune systems and overall health while minimizing the chances of bringing home the newest variety of bacteria or virus?

Although these simple habits can be taken for granted as obvious, verbal suggestions and leading by example seem to make all the difference. We all remind each other to:

  • Wash hands after using the bathroom.
  • Sneeze or cough into our inner elbow, rather than into our hands
  • Try not to put fingers into noses or mouths – generally avoid touching the face
  • Avoid the drinking fountain at school – bring bottled water if possible – there are some great eco friendly options available

And my favorite – it’s never too soon to teach our children about the dangers of sugar, and that sugar actually increases their chances of getting sick by feeding bad bacteria that make for unhappy sneezes and coughs. So minimizing sugar, both at school and at home, is one of the healthiest things we can all do together.

Which brings me to something I’d really like to say. Over the last decade, I’ve watched our awareness slowly shift from simply treating symptoms of disease to the sound concept that maintaining our natural health is the most intelligent choice we can make – on a daily basis. Sadly, American marketing techniques are often ahead of our best intentions.

Natural health isn’t always “natural” or “healthy”. We can be tricked by products that might contain a few positive nutrients lost in other ingredients that are downright unhealthy, like sugars. Gummy vitamins are the perfect example.

Sure, our kids love them because they taste like candy. Guess what – they ARE candy! And candy isn’t the way to maintain health – period.

Moms and Dads, please read the labels on those supposed healthy vitamins. If you go to your local health food store and ask, they will show you products that are sweetened with stevia or erythritol or other healthy sweeteners. Spend wisely and really preserve your children’s wellness.

Two other valuable tips:

  1. After breakfast, be sure to give your children a quality multi-vitamin that contains extra vitamin D and,
  2. Before bed, give your kids a probiotic. Their immune systems will love you for it!

Misery and suffering can be optional. Let’s all maintain our health together.

Probiotics and Vitamin C Reduce Colds and School Absences

Filed in Children, Cold and Flu, Common Cold, Probiotics & Gut Flora | Posted by Brenda Watson on 11/10/2014

Research continues to show that probiotics promote immune health. In particular, they have been found to have a beneficial effect on upper respiratory tract infections, which include cold and flu. Up to 80 percent of your immune system resides in the gut, so it’s not surprising that gut bacteria play a major role in immune health. A recent study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition is adding to the rapidly growing body of research on this topic.

In the study, 57 children aged three to five were given a probiotic formula containing Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium strains (two L. acidophilus strains, B. bifidum, and B. lactis at a total dose of 12.5 billion colony forming units) along with 50 mg of vitamin C or placebo daily for six months. Those children taking the probiotic plus vitamin C experienced a 33 percent reduction in the incidence of upper respiratory tract infections as well as a 30 percent decrease in the number of school absences. They also had fewer unscheduled visits to the doctor, less antibiotic treatment, and reduced number of days that cough medicine was used.

Vitamin C has well-known effects on immune health, and so likely complemented the effects of the probiotics. Young children experience up to 12 colds per year, a number parents would love to see go down. In addition to proper hand washing, and a healthy diet, children may benefit from probiotic supplementation to protect them from cold and flu.

Prebiotics May Help Reduce Infection in Young Children

Filed in Children, Cold and Flu, Common Cold, Immune System, Prebiotics, Respiratory issues | Posted by Brenda Watson on 07/09/2014

On average, children in the United States develop six respiratory tract infections each year. Another infection—gastroenteritis, also known as the stomach flu—accounts for over 1.5 million outpatients visits, 200,000 hospital visits, and about 300 deaths each year. Together, these infections account for a considerable degree of illness in children. If you are a parent, you are familiar with the frequency of these conditions during childhood.

The search continues for therapies that will reduce these childhood infections. A recent review published in the journal Nutrition Reviews highlights a potential answer for children under two.

The authors conclude that the evidence “suggests that preventive use of prebiotics decreases the rate of infections requiring antibiotic therapy in infants and children aged 0–24 months.”

Prebiotics are non-digestible fibers that promote the growth of beneficial bacteria in the intestines.

The researchers also state that prebiotics may be an effective preventive treatment for decreasing the rate of overall infections in these children. The prebiotics used in the studies include oligosaccharides, galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS), fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS), fructans, inulin, and oligofrutose.

Interestingly, the researchers were unable to find studies using prebiotics to prevent infections in children over the age of two. They suggest such studies be undertaken, since older children are commonly introduced to new environments in which they are exposed to acute infections.

I recently blogged about a meta-analysis that found beneficial effects of probiotics for the treatment and prevention of cold and flu in children. Together, these two papers give us strong evidence that gut microbes have a major effect on our children’s immune health both in and out of the digestive system.

When taken together, probiotics and prebiotics pack a powerful punch. There is a synergistic effect between the two. Fortunately, you can eat foods high in the prebiotic inulin. Chicory root, Jerusalem artichoke, leeks, onions, garlic, and bananas all contain high amounts. A probiotic supplement plus prebiotic foods is a great combination to help maintain a healthy balance bacteria in your gut.

Antibiotic Resistance—A Call for Global Response

Filed in Antibiotic resistance, Antibiotics, Cold and Flu, General, Omega-3 & Fish Oil, Probiotics & Gut Flora, Respiratory issues | Posted by lsmith on 12/11/2013

A new report published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases journal warns that “we are at the dawn of a post-antibiotic era,” with “almost all disease-causing bacteria resistant to the antibiotics commonly used to treat them.”1 The gravity of the problem was summed up in a commentary on the report: “Rarely has modern medicine faced such a grave threat. Without antibiotics, treatments from minor surgery to major transplants could become impossible,” and “infection-related mortality rates in developed countries might return to those of the early 20th century.2 The report describes the global situation of antibiotic resistance, its major causes and consequences (which affect “everybody in the world”), and identifies key areas in which action is urgently needed.

The report states that the global burden of resistance is probably concentrated in three major categories: longer duration of illness and higher death rates in patients with resistant infections, increasing costs of treatment for resistant infections, and inability to perform procedures (i.e. surgeries) that rely on antibiotics to prevent infection. Sadly, this message is not new. In fact, back in 1945 Sir Alexander Fleming warned of the danger of antibiotic resistance resulting from overuse of antibiotics. Yet here we are almost 70 years later, still largely ignoring age-old advice.

The report calls for national commitment, on a global scale, to the implementation of successful strategies for “getting out of the impasse.” They call for rational use of antibiotics in hospitals and in the community. They call for education and changing social norms. (The attitude, “But I always take/prescribe antibiotics for a cough/sore throat/cold/urinary tract infection/acne/etc.” must change if we are to reverse the impasse.) They call for an increased role of better diagnostics, a reduction of the inappropriate use of antibiotics in agriculture, and for new antibiotics and alternative strategies to treat existing and future antibiotic-resistant infections.

“The future of antibiotics and survival of every human being that acquires a bacterial infection will depend on the serious commitment of many stakeholders, including government authorities, policy makers, health-care workers, university teachers, pharmaceutical companies, and consumers,” they warn.

The judicious use of antibiotics is crucial not only at the global population level, but also at the individual level. If you take antibiotics frequently, your bacteria gradually become more resistant to those antibiotics and one day you find that the antibiotic that always worked suddenly does not. Then you have to take a broad-spectrum antibiotic, which targets a broad range of bacteria. But the more you take broad spectrum antibiotics, the more likely a broad range of your bacteria are to become resistant. Do you see the vicious cycle here?

According to the CDC, “nearly 2 million people in the United States acquire an infection while in a hospital, resulting in 90,000 deaths. More than 70 percent of the bacteria that cause these infections are resistant to at least one of the antibiotics commonly used to treat them.”3

Certainly, if you are treating an infection that cannot be addressed by any other means, then antibiotics are necessary. But there are many conditions for which antibiotics should not be used, yet their use continues. Brenda and I have written many times about the inappropriate use of antibiotics and the threat of antibiotic resistance. See those articles for more information.

The opposite of danger, some say, is opportunity. I think it is high time that the medical science and the medical profession look at nutritional and lifestyle factors that predispose to infection and cause prolonged illness and/or death.

A real preventative health care program would include the following: prebiotics, probiotics, and cultured beverages/foods, a plant-based diet, optimum amounts of omega-3 oils and fish, vitamin D3, vitamin C (oral and intravenous), zinc, selenium, magnesium, and multiple mushrooms (from supplements and/or food) to name a few.

If you are under your physician’s care and you are doing all of the above, it is possible that you may be able to shorten your antibiotic course from 10 days to 3 to 5 days, which may help prevent antibiotic-associated diarrhea as well as further resistance to antibiotics. If you do this and your symptoms return, immediately recontact your physician.

All of the above have been shown to balance immunity and prevent, treat, and survive many microbial infections, be they bacterial, viral, fungal, or parasitic. There is testing that can assure that the levels of most of these nutrients are in the high normal range and would confer protection, as well as be therapeutic. It would be interesting to see how nutrient deficient are the 23,000 people who die annually from an infection that has high antibiotic resistance.

So we are now basically being forced back to the natural order of things in which bacteria fight bacteria. With healthy, flexible immune balance most people will likely survive serious infections with appropriate lifestyle, diet, supplements, stress reduction, exercise, sleep, and good elimination.



  1. Laxminarayan R, Duse A, Wattal C, et al., “Antibiotic resistance—the need for global solutions.” Lancet Infect Dis. 2013;13(12):1057–98.
  2. Howard SJ, Catchpole M, Watson J, et al., “Antibiotic resistance: global response needed.” Lancet Infect Dis. 2013;12(13):1001–3.
  3. http://www.fda.gov/drugs/resourcesforyou/consumers/ucm143568.htm

Antibiotics Overprescribed for Sore Throats and Bronchitis

Filed in Antibiotics, Cold and Flu, General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 10/25/2013

As we gear up for the winter season we are reminded of the usual increase in cold and flu that runs through our communities, work places, and schools. Along with more sniffles and coughs come more visits to the doctor and, unfortunately, more prescriptions for antibiotics—often at the urging of the patient. But cold and flu are viruses, which are not affected by antibiotics. Antibiotics only kill bacteria.

Two major national surveys recently presented by Harvard scientists focused on this topic. They found that doctors prescribed antibiotics in 60 percent of visits for sore throats and 73 percent of visits for acute bronchitis, but the rate should actually be 10 percent for sore throats and almost zero for acute bronchitis.

“People need to understand that by taking antibiotics for viral infections, they’re putting something in their bodies that they don’t need,” said Jeffrey Linder, MD, senior author of the study. Only 10 percent of sore throats are caused by streptococcus (“strep”) bacteria. Acute bronchitis is nearly always viral, and even if it’s not, antibiotics are not needed unless pneumonia develops, said Linder. “Taking antibiotics unnecessarily exposes people to adverse drug reactions, allergies, yeast infections, and nausea, with no benefit.”

Linder said that most sore throats and cases of acute bronchitis should be treated with rest, fluids, and use of a humidifier—not a visit to a doctor. I often blog about the topic of antibiotic overuse because it’s important. Unnecessary antibiotic use is one major contributor to the development of antibiotic resistance, a condition much more threatening than the common cold. Next time you come down with a seasonal illness, know that it most likely does not require antibiotics. Wait it out first.