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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.

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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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Reversing Memory Loss with Personalized Natural Treatments

Filed in Alzheimer's, Brain, Dementia, Seniors | Posted by Brenda Watson on 01/26/2015

Alzheimer’s disease affects over 5 million patients in the United States and 30 million worldwide. Recent estimates suggest that Alzheimer’s is now the third leading cause of death in the United States, behind cardiovascular disease and cancer. Women are affected more than men, such that a woman’s chance of developing the disease is now greater than her chance of developing breast cancer.

There is currently no medication that effectively treats the disease despite billions of dollars spent on research. In a recent study funded by the National Institutes of Health and published in the journal Aging, Dale Bredesen, MD, director of the Mary S. Easton Center for Alzheimer’s Disease Research at UCLA reports on case studies using a personalized therapeutic program that involves multiple modalities designed to achieve metabolic enhancement for neurodegeneration.

Each patient was treated in an individualized way based on lab results obtained at the beginning of the study. All patients followed a diet that eliminated simple carbohydrates and processed foods, and increased fruit and vegetable consumption. They fasted for a minimum of three hours between dinner and bedtime, and for a minimum of 12 hours between dinner and breakfast. They exercised on a regular basis and tried to sleep as close to eight hours as possible, taking melatonin if needed. Some patients added meditation and relaxation to address stress. Additional supplementation, sometimes extensive, was given to the patients based on their lab results. Many of the patients received vitamin D, coQ10, probiotics, fish oil, active B vitamins, and antioxidants. For a complete list of supplements, see the full study here. Some patients received hormone replacement therapy, again based on lab results.

Of the ten patients Bredesen treated, nine displayed improvement in cognition within three to six months. The one patient who did not improve had a very late stage Alzheimer’s disease, which may explain the lack of response. Of the six patients who had discontinued working or were struggling with their work, all of them experienced improved performance and could return to work or continue working.

“Results from the ten patients reported here suggest that memory loss in patients with subjective cognitive impairment, mild cognitive impairment, and at least the early phase of Alzheimer’s disease, may be reversed, and improvement sustained, with the therapeutic program described here,” noted Bredesen. “However, at the current time the results are anecdotal, and therefore a more extensive, controlled clinical trial is warranted.”

Although the protocol was not easy to follow, these patients were aware of the poor prognosis of their disease and that the cognitive decline was, for the most part, untreatable, so they were motivated to adhere to the treatment.

Dr. Bredesen is a pioneer in his field. His personalized approach to treating Alzheimer’s disease is commendable. His work is similar to the work done by other functional medicine doctors like Dr. David Perlmutter. More studies are needed to help bring such treatments to more doctors around the country so that we can finally get to the root cause of the imbalances that lead to such chronic diseases as Alzheimer’s.

Aluminum and Alzheimer’s disease—The Jury is Still Out

Filed in Alzheimer's, Dementia, Environmental Toxins, Mental Health, Seniors | Posted by Brenda Watson on 01/05/2015

You may have heard, at one time or another, that aluminum exposure increases your risk for Alzheimer’s disease. Until recently, this link has been swept under the rug, so to speak. There are no conclusive results when it comes to the role of aluminum on the disease, yet all the while, some researchers have continued to find harmful effects of aluminum on the brain.

One such researcher, Christopher Exley, PhD, has devoted his life to the study of aluminum. In his paper recently published in the journal Frontiers in Neurology, he says that it may be inevitable that aluminum plays a role in Alzheimer’s disease. He talks about the lack of awareness around such a risk:

“We are all accumulating a known neurotoxin in our brain from our conception to our death. Why do we treat this inevitability with almost total complacency?”

Aluminum is the third-most abundant element of the Earth’s crust, and is commonly used throughout the world. Thus, humans are widely exposed to the element, both in the natural environment and through the use of everyday household items. Humans accumulate aluminum in every cell in the body—an accumulation that is increasing as time goes on—and yet there is not yet an identified beneficial role for aluminum in the body.

Exley’s paper is a call to action:

“How do we know that Alzheimer’s disease is not the manifestation of chronic aluminum toxicity in humans? Why are we choosing to miss out on this opportunity? Surely the time has come to test the aluminum hypothesis of Alzheimer’s disease once and for all?”

He has a good point. Studies have not refuted the connection. They simply haven’t confirmed it. Exley says that industry propaganda and political interference play a huge role in disguising the “inevitable role played by human exposure to aluminum in neurodegenerative diseases.” That is, there is a lot of money to be made in the aluminum industry. If we knew how detrimental it was, entire industries would be disrupted. They have an interest in our not finding out about it.

Exley suggests the non-invasive method of drinking silicon-rich mineral water as being a potential solution for the accumulation of aluminum in the body. Silicon is thought to promote the excretion of aluminum out of the body. He calls for more studies to determine just how much water and what silicon concentration is required to significantly lower body burdens of aluminum. In a small study of individuals with Alzheimer’s disease, they were able to demonstrate removal of aluminum by daily consumption of one liter of silicon-rich mineral water at 30 mg/L of “silica.” Silicon-rich bottled mineral water is widely available, and is usually labeled with the silica concentration.

Sugar-Sweetened Sodas Linked to Cell Aging

Filed in Seniors, Sugar | Posted by Brenda Watson on 12/08/2014

You have likely heard of the many downfalls to drinking sugar-sweetened soda. It leads to weight gain, raises blood sugar, and negatively affects liver and brain function, to name just a few of the many reasons for avoiding it. A recent study published in the American Journal of Public Health found, for the first time, that sugar-sweetened soda consumption is linked to cell aging. Specifically, the more people drank soda, the shorter were their telomeres. Telomeres are the protective caps of chromosomes inside cells, and their length is associated with human lifespan. That is, the longer your telomeres, the longer your life.

“Telomere shortening starts long before disease onset,” noted Elissa Epel, PhD, lead researcher. “Further, although we only studied adults here, it is possible that soda consumption is associated with telomere shortening in children, as well.”

So not only do sugar-sweetened beverages contribute to diabetes and cardiovascular disease via their effects on obesity, but they may also affect cell aging of tissues. Daily consumption of a 20-ounce soda was linked to 4.6 years of additional biological aging, similar to that which occurs by smoking cigarettes, or the opposite of the protection of regular exercise.

The researchers analyzed data from over 5,300 people aged 20 to 65 years old. About 20 percent of the study participants, a nationally representative sample, reported drinking at least 20 ounces of sugar-sweetened soda daily. About five percent of Americans consume the equivalent of four cans of soda daily.

More research is planned to determine whether this link is causal. In the meantime, sugar-sweetened sodas have been linked with so many negative health effects that it’s a good idea to eliminate them altogether. If you still crave a carbonated beverage, try a natural soda sweetened with stevia, or add a splash of pomegranate juice and lime to carbonated water for a refreshing treat.

Increased Pesticide Levels May Increase Your Risk of Alzheimer’s

Filed in Alzheimer's, Brain, Digestive Health, Environmental Toxins, General, Mental Health, Seniors | Posted by Brenda Watson on 03/12/2014

Alzheimer’s disease is one of the most dreaded diseases of all. Many people would rather lose almost anything before losing their minds. The causes of Alzheimer’s disease are likely a combination of genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors. Researchers from Rutgers University recently found that elevated blood levels of DDE, the metabolite of the banned pesticide DDT, increased the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

People with the highest DDE levels were four times more likely to have Alzheimer’s disease than people with the lowest levels, according to the study, which was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Those individuals with a certain gene—APOE4—were at an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s if they also had higher DDE levels. The researchers suggested that people with the APOE4 gene may be more susceptible to DDT/DDE exposure. People with the APOE4 gene are already at a higher risk of developing the disease, so adding DDT exposure appears to further add to the risk.

Although DDT was banned decades ago, it persists in the environment for a very long time, and it is not banned in many other countries, so we are still at risk of exposure. “Our results suggest that cumulative lifetime exposures may be important,” stated Jason Richardson, PhD, lead researcher.

Fortunately DDT exposure is decreasing in this country, but we are still somewhat exposed to it and its breakdown products via air, water, and food. This persistent pesticide was banned for good reason, but its negative effects still linger.

Researchers may be able to use this research to later determine whether Alzheimer’s disease can be detected at an earlier stage. I hope that this study leads to more like it that investigate the link between environmental and lifestyle factors that lead to this disease. When we know more about what causes it, we will be better able to prevent it.

Bifido Probiotic Improves Immune Health in Elderly

Filed in Adults, Digestive Health, General, Inflammation, Probiotics & Gut Flora, Seniors | Posted by Brenda Watson on 03/10/2014

Daily supplementation with the probiotic Bifidobacterium lactis was found to improve immune health in elderly adults, according to a study by researchers from the University of Reading and published in the Journal of Nutritional Science. The daily probiotic was found to significantly increase white blood cell activity in the participants when compared to people who took placebo.

Specifically, the phagocytic activity of white blood cells increased. Phagocytosis occurs when immune cells “eat” bacteria cells and is one of the main ways in which infection is fought by the immune system. The aging population is more susceptible to infection due to a decrease in immune function, a decrease in beneficial Bifidobacteria, and an increase in potential pathogens, hence the importance of immune support supplements during the golden years.

“Consumption of B. lactis could potentially improve clearance of bacteria from the body without contributing to the low-grade inflammation observed in the elderly population,” noted the researchers. “Thus, consumption of the probiotic may provide long-term health benefits for the elderly by not contributing to inflammation-associated metabolic disorders while enhancing the innate immune defense against infections.”

Bifidobacteria levels decline as we age, so I always recommend a high-Bifido probiotic to anyone over 50. Bifidobacteria is such an important probiotic overall that I recommend that just about everyone take a high-Bifido probiotic, but it is even more important as we age.

Higher Omega-3 Levels Linked to Preserved Brain Cells

Filed in General, Heart Disease, Omega-3 & Fish Oil, Seniors | Posted by Brenda Watson on 02/28/2014

Elderly women with higher omega-3 levels were found to have larger brain volume when compared to women with lower omega-3 levels, according to a new study published in the journal Neurology.  Researchers from the University of South Dakota tested the blood of over 1,000 women enrolled in the Women’s Health Initiative Memory Study. They analyzed the red blood cell omega-3 levels of these women, and then followed up with MRI scans of their brains 8 years later when the women were age 78 on average.

They found that those women with the highest red blood cell omega-3 levels (a measure also known as the Omega-3 Index) had a 0.7 percent larger brain volume. “These higher levels of fatty acids can be achieved through diet and the use of supplements, and the results suggest that the effect on brain volume is the equivalent of delaying the normal loss of brain cells that comes with aging by one to two years,” noted James Pottala, PhD, lead researcher.

The Omega-3 Index of the women with the higher brain volume was 7.5 percent compared to 3.4 percent in those women with a low index. As a comparison, an Omega-3 Index of eight percent or higher is considered to be protective of heart health, while four percent or lower is considered to be a heart disease risk factor. Perhaps the same can be said for brain health.

The women with higher omega-3 levels were also found to have increased hippocampus volume, an area of the brain responsible for memory. In patients with Alzheimer’s disease, the hippocampus begins to shrink even before symptoms arise.

This is a great study because they looked at the best measure of omega-3 status in the body—the Omega-3 Index. This index reflects long-term intake of omega-3, and so is a good representation for how much omega-3 is really in the body. I don’t know about you, but I would love to preserve my brain health by a year or two simply by having a higher Omega-3 Index (which can be achieved by supplementing daily with fish oil).

New Look, More Clarity: FDA Announces Nutrition Facts Label Makeover

Filed in Adults, Children, Digestive Health, General, Seniors | Posted by Brenda Watson on 02/12/2014

The more we know about what goes into our food—and ultimately into our bodies—the easier it is to make smarter (and healthier) choices about what we put on our plates. So, when I heard the FDA announced plans recently to give the Nutrition Facts label a makeover to provide more clarity for consumers, I thought it was a definite step in the right direction.

“There’s a feeling that nutrition labels haven’t been as effective as they should be,” said Michael Jacobson of the Center for Science in the Public Interest in a recent press release. “When you look at the label, there are roughly two dozen numbers of substances that people aren’t intuitively familiar with.”

In reality, a lot of things have changed since Nutrition Facts labels were first introduced in the early 1990s, including what we know about nutrition and dietary guidelines, and results from a recent U.S. Department of Agriculture study show that more people are reading them than ever before.

When Can We Expect a Makeover?

The FDA has already sent proposed changes to the White House, but there’s no telling when we might see the new labels or if additional recommendations may be added. Many nutritionists and other health experts are calling for things like more clarity on serving sizes, a more prominent calorie count, and a distinction between naturally occurring sugars and those added in during processing and preparation.

And, because our understanding of healthy and unhealthy fats has changed significantly in recent years (prompting the change in 2006 to separate out trans fats on the label), some health advocates would like to see the “calories from fat” declaration removed. Others would like to see a percentage for whole wheat, as well as clearer measurements overall (in some cases, teaspoons and grams vs. just grams). I am very much in favor of giving these measurements in teaspoons. The fact is, as a population we are not used to visualizing our proportions in grams, but we sure know what a teaspoon is!

Regardless of when the new labels may appear in stores, I say it’s a good sign that more and more people are paying attention to what goes into their food—and taking charge of their health and the health of their loved ones. Stay tuned to BrendaWatson.com for more updates!


High Blood Sugar is a Toxic Risk for Alzheimer’s

Filed in Alzheimer's, Brain, Diabetes, General, Seniors | Posted by Brenda Watson on 12/18/2013

High blood sugar levels make beta amyloid protein—found in people with Alzheimer’s disease—more toxic to the cells that line blood vessels in the brain, according to a new study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. High blood sugar is receiving increased attention for its role in Alzheimer’s, so much so that Alzheimer’s disease is also known by some experts as type 3 diabetes.

“While neuronal involvement is a major factor in Alzheimer’s development, recent evidence indicates damaged cerebral blood vessels compromised by high blood sugar play a role,” noted David Busija, PhD. “Even though the links among type 2 diabetes, brain vessels, and Alzheimer’s progression are unclear, hyperglycemia [high blood sugar] appears to play a role.”

The researchers used an animal model to determine that the viability of cells lining blood vessels in the brain decreases by 40 percent when exposed to high blood sugar. This damage is thought to be due to oxidative stress from the mitochondria—the powerhouses of cells. They call for aggressive control of blood sugar levels in diabetic patients to protect against such damage.

Current guidelines for normal blood sugar levels are less than 100 mg/dL, but some experts say that even lower blood sugar levels of 75 to 85 mg/dL are most protective. Indeed, even this study found that so-called normal blood sugar levels increased risk of triggering toxic beta amyloid. What increases blood sugar levels? A diet high in sugar and starchy carbohydrates (read: bread, pasta, pastries, cereal, chips, grains) does.

By lowering your intake of sugar and starchy carbohydrates and replacing these foods with non-starchy fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fats, you will achieve healthy blood sugar levels as well as a healthy weight and metabolism.

Brain Health as We Age

Filed in Brain, General, Seniors | Posted by Brenda Watson on 12/04/2013

The advice to stay mentally and socially active as we age to help stave off dementia is now being challenged by experts who say that it’s not enough to do crosswords or stay social. In a study published in Psychological Science, adults who engaged in an activity that involved learning a new skill—digital photography, quilting, or both—for 15 hours a week over three months showed improvements in memory when compared to people who engaged in activities such as listening to classical music and completing word puzzles, or when compared to participants who engaged in social interactions, field trips, and entertainment.

This changes what we thought we knew about maintaining our mental faculties into old age. What this tells me is that we need to push past our comfort zone and learn something that challenges us in order to “stay with it” as we age.

“The findings suggest that engagement alone is not enough,” stated lead researcher Denise Park, PhD. “The three learning groups were pushed very hard to keep learning more and mastering more tasks and skills. Only the groups that were confronted with continuous and prolonged mental challenge improved. It’s not just enough to get out and do something—it is important to get out and do something that is unfamiliar and mentally challenging, and that provides broad stimulation mentally and socially.”

Learning a new skill creates new connections in the brain that help to improve its function, so the results of this study are not surprising. The more we challenge ourselves mentally, the greater our brain health. If you have been considering a new hobby or learning a new skill, now is the time to learn something new. And keep learning long into old age.

In addition, follow these tips to help you age successfully.

High Blood Sugar May Increase Risk for Dementia

Filed in Alzheimer's, Brain, Diabetes, General, Seniors, Sugar | Posted by Brenda Watson on 11/18/2013

The link between high blood sugar and poor health go far beyond diabetes, a condition of epidemic proportions on its own. Not only does high blood sugar put you at risk for heart disease, but Alzheimer’s as well, a condition also known as type 3 diabetes. A recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine further solidifies the evidence that high blood sugar, even in people who do not have diabetes, is associated with an increased risk of dementia.

The study “may have influence on the way we think about blood sugar and the brain,” said Paul Crane, MD, lead author. The study analyzed data from over 2,000 patients of average age 76, and tracked blood sugar levels for almost seven years. “We found a steadily increasing risk associated with ever-higher blood glucose levels, even in people who didn’t have diabetes,” said Crane.

Researchers are still trying to figure out just how increased blood sugar leads to dementia. In the meantime, achieving and maintaining a healthy blood sugar level is always a good goal. While standard blood tests label normal blood glucose (sugar) levels at below 99 mg/dL, studies have found that blood glucose levels between 75 and 85, along with an insulin level of 5 IU/mL or less, as most protective of cardiovascular health.

Checking insulin levels along with blood sugar is important because the insulin goes up before the blood sugar levels, since insulin is the hormone that regulates blood sugar. High insulin is a sign that you may be headed toward insulin resistance, which leads to high blood sugar and inflammation.

Eating a diet high in non-starchy vegetables and fruits, healthy fats, lean proteins, nuts, and seeds will help you reach healthy blood sugar levels, among many other health benefits.