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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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      Our dog’s health is precious! They provide us with unconditional love and companionship. A daily probiotic formula is a great way to ensure good health. Make sure you choose one that delivers the recommended potency level and strain count. There is nothing quite like a healthy and happy dog. Happy Dog. Happy Life!

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Mother’s Prenatal Stress Affects Infant’s Gut Bacteria

Filed in General, Human Microbiome, Infancy, Pregnant women, Probiotics & Gut Flora, Stress | Posted by lsmith on 02/04/2015


A number of studies have linked stress during pregnancy to premature birth and low birth weight, eczema, asthma, skin condition, and general illness as well as anxiety, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and impaired cognitive and psychomotor development.1 The reasons for these associations is not completely understood. Some researchers believe that gut microbes play a role.

Intestinal microbes affect the development of an infant’s immune system, development of the gastrointestinal tract, and hormone function. Infants receive their gut microbes largely from their mother—especially if they are delivered vaginally and breastfed—and to a smaller extent from their environment. Compromised development of a healthy balance of gut bacteria during infancy can have long-lasting negative health effects.

In a recent study published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology, researchers found that women who experience stress during pregnancy are more likely to have babies with an imbalance of gut bacteria and worse gastrointestinal problems and allergic reactions when compared to women with less prenatal stress.1

Fifty-one mother-infant pairs were involved in the study. Stress levels during pregnancy along with salivary cortisol levels were measured. Cortisol, known as the stress hormone, is secreted under conditions of stress and so is a biological marker of stress. Those women with either high stress levels as measured by questionnaires or high cortisol levels were more likely to deliver babies with greater gut bacterial imbalance.

Fecal samples were collected up to five times beginning at seven days after birth up to four months after birth. Mothers with high stress and high cortisol levels had babies with higher amounts of Proteobacteria, which is comprised of a number of pathogenic species, and lower amounts of lactic acid bacteria (a group including the beneficial Lactobacillus) and Actinobacteria (a group including the beneficial Bifidobacterium). These children also experienced greater gastrointestinal symptoms and allergic reactions. Even breastfeeding, which is known to help promote the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut due to its prebiotic content, was not enough to protect from the negative effects of stress.

“We think that our results point towards a possible mechanism for health problems in children of mothers who experience stress during pregnancy,” noted Carolina de Weerth, lead researcher. “Giving other bacteria would probably benefit these children’s development.”

The researchers suggest that cortisol may be affecting gut microbes in three main ways. First, cortisol may be interfering with bile production which can have an effect on gut bacteria. Second, cortisol may cross the placenta and increase fetal cortisol levels, which might affect the development of the gastrointestinal tract and impact gut bacteria. Third, cortisol may be transferred to the infant from breast milk. Cortisol is not the only mechanism, however, since prenatally stressed women without elevated cortisol also had babies with gut imbalance. The researchers suggest that the effects of stress on the endocrine and immune systems might be to blame. These mechanisms require further study.

Indeed, this study points to the need for a diet high in plant-based foods that feed the beneficial bacteria in the gut, supplementation with pre- and probiotics, and stress-reduction therapies such as meditation during pregnancy. Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium bacteria are sensitive to environmental disturbances, and yet are well known to be crucial to the development of a healthy gut microbiota in children. Replenishing this population of bacteria—and preventing its depletion—during pregnancy, infancy, and beyond is crucial.

References

  1. Zijlmans MAC, Korpela K, Riksen-Walraven JM, et al., “Maternal Prenatal Stress and Infant Intestinal Microbiota.” Psyconeuroendocrinol. 2015;19 Jan: online ahead of print.

Antibiotics During Pregnancy Increase Risk for Childhood Obesity

Filed in Antibiotics, Children, Infancy, Obesity, Pregnant women, The Skinny Gut Diet | Posted by Brenda Watson on 01/12/2015


Antibiotic overuse is a problem that I discuss on a regular basis. One of the most detrimental effects of antibiotic overuse is the increase in obesity it is thought to contribute to. Dr. Smith recently blogged about the use of antibiotics during early infancy and its link to obesity later in life. A recent study published in the International Journal of Obesity adds to this research, finding that children who were exposed to antibiotics during the second or third trimester of pregnancy were at a higher risk of being obese at age seven. Infants born to mothers who delivered by Cesarean section were also at increased risk for obesity during childhood.

Of 727 mothers enrolled in the study, 436 were followed until the children reached age seven. Sixteen percent of the mothers used antibiotics during the second or third trimesters, which put them at an 84 percent increased risk for obesity compared with those children who were not exposed.

“Our findings should not discourage antibiotic use when they are medically needed, but it is important to recognize that antibiotics are currently overprescribed,” noted Noel Mueller, PhD. “Our findings provide new evidence in support of the hypothesis that Cesarean section independently contributes to the risk of childhood obesity.”

I wrote about the effects of antibiotics on the development of obesity in my latest book, The Skinny Gut Diet. Antibiotics alter the gut microbes in ways that lead to the development of obesity. Researchers are discovering that the type of bacteria you have in your gut determines whether or not you will be more likely to gain weight.

Setting up a healthy balance of gut bacteria early in life—and maintaining it throughout life—looks to be one of the best ways to avoid the weight gain trap that currently plagues two-thirds of the United States. Vaginal birth, breastfeeding, antibiotic use only when absolutely necessary, and a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables will go a long way toward establishing a healthy balance of gut bacteria. Probiotic supplementation can also help to support this balance.

Antibacterial Compounds Pose Risk During Pregnancy—How to Avoid Them

Filed in Environmental Toxins, Infancy, Pregnant women | Posted by Brenda Watson on 09/24/2014


We are a germ-fearing society. From antibacterial soaps, wipes, cleaners, and ointments to hand sanitizer and antimicrobial bedding, we are trying—literally—to wipe ourselves free of all the germs. What could all this sanitization be doing to our health, some researchers have asked? As it turns out, a lot.

One compound in particular—triclosan—is found in many everyday items such as soaps, towels, mattresses, sponges, personal care products, shower curtains, toothbrushes, phones, kitchenware, shoes, flooring, cutting boards, clothing, fabrics, and toys that are labeled “antimicrobial” or that are labeled as “odor-fighting” or “keeps food fresher, longer,” according to the Environmental Working Group.

In a recent study presented at the National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society, researchers investigated the exposure of pregnant women to triclosan and triclocarban, two of the most common antimicrobial compounds in use in everyday products.

“We found triclosan in all of the urine samples from the pregnant women that we screened,” stated Benny Pycke, PhD, one of the researchers. “We also detected it in about half of the umbilical cord blood samples we took, which means it transfers to fetuses.”

Evidence is mounting against these compounds, which have been found to lead to developmental and reproductive problems in animals and linked to health problems in humans.

“If you cut off the source of exposure, eventually triclosan and triclocarban would quickly be diluted out, but the truth is that we have universal use of these chemicals, and therefore also universal exposure,” noted Rolf Halden, PhD, lead researcher.

More than 2,000 everyday products contain these chemicals, which highlights how widespread the exposure is. Minnesota has taken offense, and has passed a ban on triclosan use in certain products that will take effect in January, 2017. Some companies are also phasing out the use of the compound, but more needs to be done to reduce our exposure. In the meantime, you can choose to buy products that do not contain these ingredients. Use EWG’s Skin Deep cosmetics database to be sure that you are buying products that don’t contain triclosan or triclocarban.

Obesity During Pregnancy Affects Gut Microbes in Offspring

Filed in Obesity, Pregnant women, Probiotics & Gut Flora | Posted by Brenda Watson on 09/10/2014


Obesity during pregnancy has a number of detrimental effects. Not only does it negatively affect the mother by increasing the risk of gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, infections, sleep apnea, and even infertility in the first place, but it also has harmful effects on the baby, including problems with labor and the increased risk of obesity, heart disease, and diabetes later in life.

In a new study presented at the Annual Meeting of the Society for the Study of Ingestive Behavior (SSIB), using an animal model, researchers found that maternal obesity triggers changes in the gut microbial composition and gut function in offspring.

Offspring born to obese mothers had an increase in the Firmicutes to Bacteroidetes ratio that is a known characteristic of obese humans, an interesting finding considering that this trait, which is passed down from mother to offspring, is not genetic. With about 30 percent of pregnant women obese, the health of many children is at risk.

“Modulation of microflora composition is fairly easy and non-invasive, and may be of benefit for these children,” noted Claire de la Serre, PhD, lead researcher.

This is not the only study to link alterations of gut microbes and obesity. A couple years ago Dr. Smith blogged about the connection between Cesarean delivery and obesity, and how alterations in gut microbes might be to blame. I also talk about this link in my new book, The Skinny Gut Diet.

4 Ways to Avoid Environmental Toxin Risk During Pregnancy

Filed in Environmental Toxins, Pregnant women | Posted by Brenda Watson on 08/01/2014


Pregnancy is one of the most important times in a woman’s life, a time when her health focus shifts to include the well-being of her developing baby. It is also a critical and vulnerable time during infant development. While most doctors will talk to expectant moms about making important dietary and lifestyle changes, a new study published in the Public Library of Sciences ONE journal shows less than 20 percent of obstetricians bring up a subject that can have significant and lasting effects on the health of their unborn children: environmental toxins.

Dr. Naomi Stotland and a team of colleagues from the University of California San Francisco surveyed more than 2,500 members of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and found that although pregnant women are often unaware of the dangers of prenatal exposure to toxic chemicals, their doctors rarely bring up the subject—even thoughalmost 80 percent of the obstetricians surveyed said they could likely reduce their patients’ exposure simply by talking to them about it.

When asked why they weren’t counseling their patients about environmental health hazards, many of the physicians said they didn’t know enough or lacked the right training to talk about toxins. Even more concerning, many simply dismissed the conversation because they didn’t think their patients would be able to do anything about reducing their exposure—or they believed there were other more important topics to discuss. To me, this is unacceptable.

“We have good scientific evidence demonstrating that pregnant women are exposed to toxic chemicals, and there’s a link between these exposures and adverse health outcomes in children,” said Tracey Woodruff, PhD, MPH, lead author.

No matter where they live or what their financial or social situation may be, a five-minute conversation about the risk of exposure is worth it. Consider this: in two studies, researchers at Environmental Working Group (EWG) found almost 300 different toxic chemicals in newborn babies—chemicals linked to a broad range of serious health and behavior problems. Babies were exposed to those chemicals (including BPA and flame retardants) in the womb as their mothers came into contact with things in their everyday environment.

Because even the smallest changes can make a big difference in the health of developing babies, it is so important that pregnant women receive as much information as possible about reducing their exposure to toxins. The ACOG is on the right track, just last year recommending its physicians talk to their patients during the first prenatal visit about identifying specific types of exposure that may be harmful to a developing fetus.

The following tips from the University of California Toxic Matters guide will help you reduce toxin exposure during pregnancy.

1.    Prevent Exposure at Home

Don’t smoke
Use non-toxic personal care products
Choose safer home improvements
Keep mercury out of your diet, home, and garbage
Eat organic food when possible to reduce your exposure to pesticides
Avoid canned food and beverages to avoid BPA exposure
Reduce toxins in drinking water
Avoid lead exposure
Test your home for radon

2.    Become a Smart Consumer

Use non-toxic products
Don’t buy products made with soft PVC
Don’t use plastic containers for hot food or drinks

3.    Prevent Exposure in Your Community

Drive less
Never burn trash
Don’t use pesticides
Never throw toxic substances down drains, in toilets, or in the garbage
Clean floors with a wet mop or cloth to remove dust, which collects toxins
Clean your home with non-toxic products
Don’t dry clean your clothes

4. Prevent Exposure at Work

Get information and training about hazardous substances in your workplace

Human Placenta Contains a Community of Microbes

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


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

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

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

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

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

References

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

Antidepressant Use During Pregnancy Linked to Autism

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


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

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

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

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

 

Fish Consumption During Pregnancy—To Do or Not To Do?

Filed in Children, Digestive Health, Environmental Toxins, General, Omega-3 & Fish Oil, Pregnant women | Posted by Brenda Watson on 04/18/2014


You may have heard that eating fish during pregnancy is good for you. Conversely, you may have also heard that you should limit your fish intake during pregnancy. What’s a soon-to-be mama to do with all the conflicting advice? I’d like to help clear up the confusion on this important topic.

Currently, the FDA recommends that women who might become pregnant, who are pregnant, or who are nursing, along with young children all avoid fish that are known to contain high levels of mercury. Most notably:

  • Shark
  • Swordfish
  • King mackerel
  • Tilefish

The National Resources Defense Council issued a more complete list of high-mercury fish which adds to the FDA’s list the following:

  • Orange roughy
  • Marlin
  • Ahi tuna
  • Bigeye tuna

The FDA also recommends that these women and children eat up to 12 ounces a week (the equivalent of two average meals) of a variety of fish and shellfish that are lower in mercury. Five of the most common they recommend are:

  • Shrimp
  • Canned light tuna*
  • Salmon
  • Pollock
  • Catfish

Two advocacy organizations recently sued the FDA, demanding that they require labeling of canned and packaged fish to inform consumers of the mercury content. The fish industry is concerned that such labels will scare people from eating fish altogether, however. They do have a point, but I think that the more we know about the foods we’re eating, the better

There is one other important factor that they are not taking into account—which fish are low in mercury and also high in beneficial omega-3 fats? Those are the fish we need to be eating as much as possible. Unfortunately, the list is quite short. The three fish lowest in mercury and highest in omega-3 fats are:

  • Salmon
  • Sardines
  • Herring

If you are a fan of one or more of these three fish, that’s great news. Eat these fish as often as possible. If you are not—some people simply can’t take the stronger fish flavor of these three fish—then your best bet is a high-potency, purified fish oil supplement that is enteric coated for less fishy aftertaste. Look for a high-potency supplement with the IFOS label to ensure that the fish oil meets or exceeds international standards for purity, potency, and freshness.

*Not albacore tuna, which is high in mercury.

 

Low-Dose BPA Proves Harmful to Primates—A Model for Effects in Humans

Filed in Environmental Toxins, General, Infancy, Pregnant women | Posted by Brenda Watson on 03/28/2014


BPA is one of the most highly covered toxins by the press, and for good reason. It is one of the most widely found toxins in everyday household items such as metal food and beverage cans, plastic bottles and containers, cash register receipts, and even dental fillings. A recent primate study funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences has found that low-dose exposure to BPA alters development of infants in utero.

“Previous studies in rodents have demonstrated that maternal exposure to very low doses of BPA can significantly alter fetal development, resulting in a variety of adverse outcomes in the fetus,” noted the researchers. “Our study is one of the first to show this also happens in primates.” Why study primates? Because they closely mimic human physiology and so study results can be extrapolated to humans more accurately. What this tells us is that the case against BPA just got stronger.

The researchers found significant damage to mammary glands, ovaries, brain, uterus, lung, and heart tissues of primate infants even before birth when compared to those infants not exposed to BPA. “Our findings suggest that traditional toxicological studies likely underestimate actual human exposure and show, unequivocally, that biologically active BPA passes from the mother to the fetus,” they state.

The United States has been slow to regulate BPA, although consumers have been asking for it to be removed from certain products. BPA-free plastic products can be found, but we still have a long way to go. In the meantime, when you buy canned foods and plastic containers, purchase the BPA-free versions when possible. And if you want to be proactive, ask the stores you shop at to use BPA-free thermal receipt paper. Change like this usually begins with consumers.

Probiotics Reduce Bowel Disease in Premature Babies

Filed in Digestive Health, Infancy, Pregnant women, Probiotics & Gut Flora, Supplements | Posted by Brenda Watson on 02/17/2014


Premature infants given a daily dose of a probiotic blend were protected against the more severe forms of necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC), a potentially deadly inflammatory disease, according to a recent study published in the journal Pediatrics. NEC is the most common gastrointestinal emergency in premature infants. It involves damage to the intestinal lining that ranges from surface damage all the way to complete perforations of the intestinal wall. NEC affects 10 percent of infants born less than 1.5 kg (3.3 lb). At least 50 percent of those infants do not survive.

In the probiotic study, infants born before 32 weeks and weighing less than 1.5 kg were given either a probiotic containing Bifidobacterium infantis, Streptococcus thermophilus, and Bifidobacterium lactis or a placebo daily. Those infants taking the probiotic combination were more protected against the development of more severe NEC when compared to those infants receiving the placebo. There were no differences in the outcomes for sepsis (blood infection) or rates of death, however. Treatment with the probiotic in this susceptible population appears to be safe, the researchers found.

“We have a strong focus on infant health and support research initiatives that will enable us to make continuous advancements. The study findings are remarkable,” they stated. NEC is a serious disease that is treated in hospitals. It is my hope that more studies will be done to advance the science so that probiotic treatment can be widely available and play a helpful role in this devastating condition.