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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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Texts – New Teenage Health Food?

Filed in Diet, Fermentation, General, Leaky Gut, Skin, Teens, The Skinny Gut Diet, Uncategorized | Posted by Brenda Watson on 08/19/2016

Texts are like health food for teens - brendawatson.com

Are your kids back to school yet? If not, hang in there, the time is fast approaching! And perhaps this year, you can consider sending healthy texts to make a difference in what your teen chooses to eat! Now that’s a novel idea~

My beloved granddaughter has been staying with me this summer and she’s off to college on Monday. Add to that her birthday was last Wednesday, so to celebrate Stan and I took her on a trip to the Florida Keys. To increase the fun we invited some close friends of ours that have teenage daughters too. It was a non-stop texting and photo shoot (whatever did one do before the selfie?), tons of laughs and of course a food fest!

I had to grin when I checked out the Wall Street Journal and saw this article – “Appeal to Teens Vanity to Get Them to Eat Better”. I just lived and breathed that title!

The study published online in the British Journal of Health Psychology stated that “teenagers are more likely to eat healthier foods, particularly fruits and vegetables, if they are reminded it will improve their emotional well-being, attitude and appearance”.

I’ll bet you’re not surprised that the daily reminders were delivered via text. The abstract of the actual study can be found here. In a nutshell, texting proved to be a helpful tool in stimulating teenagers, ages 14 to 19, to increase their positive nutrient consumption.

While teens who received texts about increased health benefits and decreased cancer risk did consume more fruits and veggies than a control group that didn’t receive texts, the group that showed the most improvement in their eating habits received texts that focused on optimistic attitudes and a more attractive appearance.

That makes perfect sense to me. When I was that age, prevention and disease processes were the furthest things from my mind. After all, when you’re a teenager, it’s very clear you’ll live forever, won’t you? That’s the attitude that makes jumping off bridges and rock climbing just another day in the life! How I looked and how happy I was were of paramount importance!

As I consider these findings, I realize once again that the most important reminders any teenager can receive are those he or she experiences right at home. My granddaughter will come into the kitchen when something different is being prepared, and although her adorable nose may turn up a bit, her curiosity wins out time and again. You see, for years I’ve offered whole food, sometimes unusual substitutes for processed junk food on my table. As a grandmother, my influence goes only so far, but I believe that the seeds of health awareness have been firmly planted.

I find it a bit unsettling that she is recently recognizing more and more food sensitivities. Those allergic reactions point to Leaky Gut Syndrome and damage already done to the intestinal wall. Sadly, gut dysfunctions are happening at earlier ages than ever before, even in those considered “healthy teens”. (Tip for Mom – fortify your teen’s belly with a good probiotic daily!)

My granddaughter’s path is her own, and never before was her independence asserted more than during this vacation. She’s growing up and I look forward to watching her become a fine young woman. She knows I’m always here for her.

I’m thinking perhaps I should consider creating a series of texts that will let her know that live greens and fermented foods will make her skin glow (and that’s the total truth)!

Or maybe I will sneak a copy of Skinny Gut Diet into her suitcase. She just might get bored and read it one day – especially if I tell her she will definitely be even more beautiful if she does!

Brain Invaders!

Filed in Alzheimer's, Brain, Immune System, Leaky Gut | Posted by Brenda Watson on 06/02/2016

Brain Aging - brendawatson.com

Today I’d like to share with you some very though-provoking research I came across that was reported in our local paper, the Tampa Bay Times, regarding brain aging.

A Harvard research team is exploring the idea that Alzheimer’s disease could be the result of the body’s attempt to fight off infection. Their study focus is those plaque balls that are called beta amyloid.

You see, the brain is an area that is absolutely not supposed to be breached by bacteria or foreign substances – at all! For years, scientists believed that the blood-brain barrier was virtually impermeable. Now we know differently.

However should the brain’s defenses be breached, the immune system apparently becomes quite aggressive in walling off the invader, be it a virus, fungi or bacterium.

The groundbreaking evidence thus far seems to show that the defense system of the brain creates a sticky cage out of proteins called beta amyloids, literally trapping an offending microbe until it dies. These cages remain and form the plaques that are the hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease. The true function of the beta amyloids has been a mystery until now. It appears that in the body’s emergency response to protect the brain, the long-term repercussions may produce Alzheimer’s disease!

Once again these beautiful human bodies that we live in show remarkable abilities to protect us from harmful influences. Although no one would hope for Alzheimer’s disease, one day we may realize that without those cages of beta amyloids trapping all sorts of pathogens within them, people could be overcome by myriad brain infections all the time, suffer miserably, perhaps die quickly. Time will tell. I’m very curious.

For now, I reflect on the importance of maintaining the integrity and health of all our body systems to the best of our ability through appropriate eating habits, exercise, and lifestyle choices.

The question remains – how do we protect the brain from infection in the first place? Perhaps the next Harvard research project might be – how do we strengthen the integrity of that delicate blood-brain barrier against initial infection?

I feel certain those future answers to “Leaky Brain” will align perfectly with creating a healthy intestinal wall, further protecting us from Leaky Gut. As our understanding of the Gut-Brain connection expands, it will positively offer us even more amazing breakthroughs for health far into our futures.

Gut Microbes Linked to Alcohol Dependence

Filed in Human Microbiome, Leaky Gut | Posted by Brenda Watson on 01/19/2015

The intestinal lining is a protective interface between the digestive tract and the rest of the internal organs and systems. It is a semi-permeable lining that, when healthy, lets in small digested nutrients and keeps out larger undigested food particles and pathogens. When the intestinal lining is damaged, a condition known as increased intestinal permeability or leaky gut usually due to an inflammatory process in the intestines, larger food particles and pathogens can enter systemic circulation and trigger the immune system to create yet further inflammation that can travel through the bloodstream and reach areas of the body far from the digestive tract, where the damage originated.

In a recent study published in the journal Biological Psychiatry, researchers discovered a link between leaky gut and alcohol dependence. They found that gut bacteria that had migrated through a leaky gut triggered inflammation that was linked with alcohol craving in alcohol-dependent patients.

“This study suggests that there may be a link between inflammatory processes that develop when gut barriers to bacteria break down and risk for continued heavy drinking among people with alcohol use disorders,” noted John Krystal, the journal’s editor. “The findings suggest that it might be helpful to protect and restore gut integrity and to reduce inflammation when helping patients recover from alcohol use disorders.”

The study tested 63 alcohol-dependent patients for activation of inflammation and monitored for alcohol consumption and craving before and after the patients underwent an alcohol detoxification program. The results were compared with those from 14 healthy control patients. Those patients exposed to alcohol had a higher inflammatory response triggered by gut bacteria that was linked to alcohol cravings than they did after the detoxification, or when compared to the healthy controls.

This study is one more example of how our gut bacteria can control our mental state. Researchers have known for a while that inflammation plays a role in the development of some mental disorders, but they are still working out the details of the origin of that inflammation. Some of the research, like this study, has already linked the inflammation to gut bacteria. My hope is that this research leads to a gut-centered solution for these individuals, who may be more at the mercy of their gut microbes than we realize.

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.


  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.

Leaky Gut in Multiple Sclerosis

Filed in Human Microbiome, Inflammation, Leaky Gut, Multiple Sclerosis | Posted by Brenda Watson on 10/03/2014

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disease that involves an immune system attack of the protective sheath (myelin sheath) that covers nerves. This destruction has a damaging effect on the communication between the brain and the rest of the body. The disease process varies widely per person, ranging from symptoms of weakness, tingling, numbness, blurred vision, muscle stiffness, and difficult thinking to, in some cases, loss of the ability to walk.

Scientists are not entirely sure how MS develops, but a recent study may help explain the early disease process. Published in the Public Library of Sciences ONE journal, researchers from Lund University in Sweden discovered that inflammation and changes in intestinal permeability (also known as leaky gut syndrome) occur early in the disease.

“Our studies indicate a leaky gut and increased inflammation in the intestinal mucous membrane and related lymphoid tissue before clinical symptoms of MS are discernible,” noted Shahram Lavasani, PhD, one of the researchers. “It also appears that inflammation increases as the disease develops.”

Previously Dr. Lavasani’s team showed that probiotic bacteria were protective against MS, which is what prompted them to take a closer look at the function of the intestinal lining. They found increases in inflammatory immune cells common in people with inflammatory bowel disease, another autoimmune condition.

“In most cases, we don’t know what triggers autoimmune diseases, but we know that pathogenic cells frequent and disrupt the intestines,” stated Lavasani. “A leaky gut enables harmful bacteria and toxic substances in the body to enter the intestine, which creases even more inflammation. Our findings provide support for the idea that a damaged intestinal barrier can prevent the body ending an autoimmune reaction in the normal manner, leading to a chronic disease such as MS.”

Exactly! This process, which begins with gut bacteria imbalance that triggers inflammation and leads to leaky gut, opening the doorway for inflammation to enter systemic circulation and reach any area of the body, is a central theme of the gut connection, a topic that I have been educating about for years. It’s why I strongly stress the importance of beginning any health journey by optimizing digestive health. It all begins with gut balance and healing the intestinal lining. This study is a great example of a process that occurs in countless chronic diseases.

As I always say, balance your gut, heal your body.

Watch My Segment on Leaky Gut on The American Health Journal

Filed in General, Leaky Gut, Omega-3 & Fish Oil | Posted by Brenda Watson on 09/25/2013

Have you heard the term “leaky gut” but didn’t really understand what it meant? Recently I explained leaky gut in detail and how it relates to silent inflammation and heart disease on The American Health Journal, airing on Public Television in different markets nationally. You can watch the entire segment below:

[vimeo 74309037 500 375]

Let’s face it. Most people don’t really understand the function of their intestinal lining. Very simply, digestion of food begins in your mouth, continues in your stomach, and it’s then passed along to your intestine. The lining of your intestine is designed as a selective barrier to keep undigested food, parasites, bacteria, and toxins out of your bloodstream, and to only allow digested nutrients like vitamins, minerals, and anti-oxidants into your bloodstream, so that your cells, tissues, and organs may be nourished.

In a healthy digestive system, there’s a mucous layer that covers your intestinal lining where friendly bacteria known as probiotics line up. They protect your circulatory and lymphatic systems from harmful invaders and also help in delivering the good nutrients from digested food directly into your blood.

As your intestine becomes inflamed, largely from poor dietary choices, the mucous lining erodes away and unfriendly bacteria and yeast can multiply. As this takes place, the good bacteria—your probiotics—are destroyed. That’s when the leaking begins.

As undigested food particles and toxins of all sorts enter your blood stream, many different areas of your body can become inflamed—from your brain and your joints, to your heart and arteries. At this stage, it’s called “silent” inflammation because in most cases, you can’t feel that it’s happening.

There is good news, however. Silent inflammation is actually easy to detect by four simple to measure markers. They are:

  • high blood pressure
  • high cholesterol
  • high blood sugar
  • weight gain

More good news! Omega-3 oils are a natural and easy way to obtain nutrients that can significantly help decrease silent inflammation and also assist in repair of a leaky gut. There are actually over 7,000 research studies that report the benefits of omega-3 oils for human health.

Be aware though, fish oil is not the same as Omega-3 oil. Omega-3s are a small component of fish oil and according to studies, you need approximately 3,000 to 5,000 mg of omega-3 daily to reduce silent inflammation and heal leaky gut. So as an example, if the label on your fish oil says it contains 1,000 mg of omega-3 per capsule, then you would only need to take 3 capsules per day. It’s very important to check your label for this critical information.

Once again, with regard to omega-3s, the amount you take daily directly relates to the benefits you will receive, according to the research literature. I don’t want you to be misled into thinking that just a little bit of omega-3 (or fish oil) is actually protecting your heart and your health, when it’s not.

I have personally experienced many people who have lowered their cholesterol and blood pressure without medication by modifying their diets and supplementing with the right amount of omega-3s. If your body is showing signs of silent inflammation—high blood pressure, high cholesterol, high blood sugar, or weight gain—consider checking with your doctor to see if this natural approach might be right for you.

Silent inflammation and the symptoms that go along with it are optional. They directly relate to the nutrient choices you make throughout your day. Choose wisely and stop silent inflammation before it becomes a chronic disease.

The Gut-Brain Connection

Filed in Adults, Conditions, Digestive Health, Enzymes, General, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Leaky Gut, Probiotics & Gut Flora, Supplements | Posted by Brenda Watson on 06/02/2009

My assistant recently returned from the latest Institute for Functional Medicine conference in southern Florida. For those not familiar with Functional Medicine it is a personalized medicine that deals with primary prevention and underlying causes instead of symptoms for serious chronic disease. In other words, they teach Medical Doctors as well as all other specialties how to evaluate a person to get to the route of a problem or disease and treating the cause verses just treating the symptoms.

A big part of Functional Medicine includes the use of nutraceuticals in treatment.

This year’s conference centered on Mood Disorders, including depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder as well as touching base on Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Amazingly, one of the focuses of the lectures was the gut-brain connection in relation to mood disorders. More specifically, how reactions of our immune system and gut inflammation can directly affect our brain.

Remember that most of our immune system is in our gut.

Without getting too technical, the same type of cells and neurotransmitters found in our brain are also located within the digestive system. The development of an infection or inflammation anywhere in the body will set the immune system in action. Again, most of this reaction takes place first within the immune system of the digestive tract. Our immune system responds by the reaction of proteins called cytokines. These cytokines tell our body what type of reaction to have, such as swelling, stiffness, pain etc…It has now been shown that these cytokines will travel a very unique pathway and arrive at the brain, setting into motion a chemical reaction that results in the breakdown of the neurotransmitters involved in mood stability and inflammation within the brain itself.

Once this brain inflammation develops, it can remain for months even though the initial problem in the other part of our body gets resolved. This brain reaction can result in symptoms such as brain fog, memory problems, depression and anxiety. In addition, the influx of these cytokines to the brain can disrupt the lining of the brain called the blood-brain-barrier, causing what they now call “Leaky Brain” syndrome, making the brain more susceptible to other agents that do not normally pass this barrier. This is very similar indeed to what we know as Leaky Gut syndrome.

The more inflammation and irritation of the gut lining, as in Leaky Gut, will in turn send more of the cytokines to the brain, resulting in more inflammation and irritation there. In reverse, they are now seeing that healing the gut, reducing inflammation and supporting the immune system with the proper nutraceuticals can in turn reduce depression, anxiety and even reduce some symptoms associated with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

All the more reason to take precautionary measures by supporting your immune system with probiotics, as well as your vitamins and minerals. Taking a glutamine supplement such as IntestiNew will help keep your intestinal tract healthy, reduce inflammation and defer the development of leaky gut.

It is funny that years ago scientists and doctors treated the brain and mood disorders as a total separate entity from the rest of the body. It is nice to see that they now realize the brain is connected to the body, through something called the neck!

Chronic Disease and the Balance of Good and Bad Bacteria in the Gut

Filed in Digestive Health, General, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Leaky Gut, Probiotics & Gut Flora | Posted by Brenda Watson on 04/27/2009

For many years now scientists have been studying how the balance of good and bad bacteria in the gut can contribute to, or influence all kinds of chronic diseases. Diseases such as IBS, Chron’s, colitis, even diabetes, asthma and liver disease. But recently coming into the limelight is research showing that your gut bacteria, specifically the type you have, may be making you fat.

Recent research performed by Cornell University microbiologist Ruth Ley has shown that obese people have a different mix of bacteria in the gut than skinny people. When she fed gut bacteria from obese mice to sterile mice, they got fat, but when the sterile mice consumed the gut bacteria from skinny mice, they gained very little.

The theory behind this is that certain microbial populations allow the body to harvest more calories from food. Over time this could contribute to weight gain. The bacteria found in obese individuals and the one believed to cause this effect belonged to a particular microbial subgroup, hydrogen-producing bacteria known as prevotellaceae.

This research is still in the early stages, but some studies suggest that altering or modifying the gut bacteria may result in weight loss. One way to do just that would be to take a high potency probiotic supplement like Renew Life’s Ultimate Flora 50 Billion that could crowd out this unwanted obesity bacteria. This is not to say that this bacteria is the only factor by any means in obesity.

Adding a good probiotic supplement to your weight loss regime could prove helpful.