Inflammation is one of the main ways in which the body heals itself. When inflammation is employed in the short term, it comes and goes when needed, and is resolved in due time. When you get a cut or bruise, or when your body fights a cold, you usually feel worse for a short while before you feel better—that’s inflammation at its best. Acute inflammation is an important part of the body’s function. It becomes a problem when the inflammation is chronic. Chronic inflammation contributes to most, if not all, chronic disease, and it can be triggered by a wide range of factors.
In a recent study published in the Proceedings of the Royal B Society journal, researchers found that low birth weight and insufficient or no breastfeeding increases the risk of inflammation later in life.1 To measure inflammation, blood levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), a well-known marker of systemic inflammation, were measured in over 15,000 adults aged 24 to 32 years old. Those infants who weighed more than 6.18 pounds at birth and those who were breastfed for at least three months were less likely to have inflammation in young adulthood.
“Breastfeeding provides nutritional and immunological support to infants following delivery and has sensitive period effects on immune development and metabolic processes related to obesity—two potential avenues of influence on adult CRP production,” noted the researchers.
Although they measured CRP at one point in time, they excluded data for anyone who also exhibited symptoms of infection so that they would have a better marker of chronic vs acute inflammation.
Current breastfeeding guidelines in the United States recommend exclusive breastfeeding to six months of age, followed by continued breastfeeding to at least one year. Yet only a small percentage of infants meet these recommendations. Brenda and I have blogged many times on the benefits of breastfeeding. Most importantly, breastfeeding helps to boost the beneficial gut bacteria in infants, which helps set them up for a lifetime of better health. Breast milk contains the prebiotic GOS (galactoligosaccharide), which feeds good bacteria in the gut. It also contains beneficial Bifidobacteria, as some researchers recently discovered.
It would have been interesting to see the gut bacteria levels in the participants of this study. My guess is that those with longer breastfeeding (and lower inflammation) would have a healthier balance of gut bacteria.
If you have been on the fence about breastfeeding, please know that it’s one of the best things you can do for your infant. Strive to breastfeed for a minimum (longer, if possible) of one year. If you are unable to breastfeed for health reasons or because you do not produce enough milk, a probiotic supplement formulated for infants is recommended.
McDade TW, Metzger MW, Chyu L, et al., “Long-term effects of birth weight and breastfeeding duration on inflammation in early adulthood.”Proc Biol Sci. 2014 Apr 23;281(1784):20133116.
The connection between gut bacteria and weight gain is a subject of great interest among researchers. It’s a topic of great interest to me, too! The search is on for probiotic therapies that prevent weight gain. In a recent study published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, Vanderbilt University researchers discovered a protective effect against weight gain of a genetically modified probiotic bacteria, E. coli Nissle 1917.
Although most people think of food poisoning when they think of E. coli, only one specific E. coli strain causes disease (E. coli O157:H7). Most E. coli strains are actually harmless or even beneficial.
The researchers genetically modified the E. coli strain to produce a compound called NAPE (N-acylphosphatidylethanolamine), which is normally created in the small intestine in response to eating. NAPE is converted to NAE (N-acylethanolamine), which is known to reduce food intake and weight gain.
Mice eating a high-fat diet ingested NAPE-producing bacteria for eight weeks and were found to have lower food intake, body fat, insulin resistance, and fatty liver when compared to mice receiving bacteria not genetically modified to produce NAPE. The protective effects lasted at least four weeks after probiotics were no longer ingested. Twelve weeks later the mice still had lower body weight and body fat compared to control mice.
“Of course, it’s hard to speculate from mouse to human,” noted lead researcher Sean Davies, PhD, “But essentially, we’ve prevented most of the negative consequences of obesity in mice, even though they’re eating a high-fat diet.”
While this study is interesting, I must say that I have reservations about genetically modifying bacteria. We simply don’t know the long-term consequences. If this NAPE compound is something that we naturally produce in the intestines, it seems to me that we can find another way to optimize its production in the gut. Perhaps this research can help us to better understand how to affect weight gain, but without resorting to genetic modification. In all, this study still supports the connection between gut bacteria and weight gain. It shows that one simple chemical produced by gut bacteria has the ability to have many positive effects on weight loss-related health.
You may have heard that omega-3 fats are good for your joints—and you’re right, particularly when it comes to inflammation. Most studies investigating omega-3 for joint health have looked at rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease that causes inflammation in the joints. Omega-3 supplementation has been shown to reduce the need for non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and reduce symptoms and inflammation in these patients.
A new study published in the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases investigates the role of omega-3 fats on the other main type of arthritis—osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis affects about 27 million people in the United States and involves loss of cartilage in joints, which causes pain, stiffness, and loss of mobility.
In the study, the researchers used an animal model and administered three different diets: one high in saturated fat, one high in omega-6 fats, and one high in omega-6 fats with additional omega-3. Those diets high in saturated and omega-6 fats caused a worsening of arthritis while the diet with added omega-3 helped slow joint deterioration.
“While omega-3 fatty acids aren’t reversing the injury, they appear to slow the progression of arthritis in this group of mice,” stated Farshid Guilak, PhD. “In fact, omega-3 fatty acids eliminated the detrimental effects of obesity in obese mice.”
Next, the researchers plan to study the effects of omega-3 fats in people with osteoarthritis induced by injury. I look forward to the results.
Because osteoarthritis triggers inflammation, many integrative physicians recommend omega-3 fats for their benefits on inflammation. Omega-3s help to balance the inflammatory effects of a diet high in omega-6 (the reason the omega-6-rich diet in the study above made the arthritis worse). Many people have insufficient levels of omega-3 due to the high prevalence of omega-6 fats in the diet.
Eating fish high in omega-3 (salmon, sardines, and herring, for example) and taking a fish oil supplement while lowering omega-6 intake (replace your vegetable oils with olive or coconut oil) will help to balance your omega-3/6 ratio and promote healthy joints.
You have likely heard of bisphenol A (BPA), the hormone disrupting chemical found in many plastics. In fact, you may even purchase ‘BPA-free’ plastics in an effort to minimize your exposure to BPA. Many of us do. But you might want to rethink your approach based on some new research. The chemical that manufacturers use to replace BPA is BPS, or bisphenol S. As the name suggests, BPS is similar to BPA. Due to this similarity, some researchers have questioned the safety of BPS.
In a recent study presented at the meeting of the International Society of Endocrinology and the Endocrine Society, researchers found that young zebrafish (which exhibit similar development as humans, surprisingly) had increased hyperactivity and brain changes when they had been exposed to BPS during brain development stages early in life.
“BPS, termed the safe alternative to BPA, may be equally as harmful to developing brains,” noted Deborah Kurrasch, PhD, lead researcher. “Society must place increased pressure on decision makers to remove all bisphenol compounds from manufacturing processes.”
BPA has been linked to many conditions, including obesity, reproductive cancers, and hyperactivity in children. Could it be that BPS induces similar harmful effects?
This is not the first study to suggest BPS is not the safe alternative we think it is. And it won’t be the last. Until they find a better, safer substitute, your best bet is to avoid plastic containers as much as possible. Opt for glass instead, which is about as safe as it gets when it comes to chemicals. Glass is inert, so it won’t leach any toxins. Be sure to share this news with others, because I suspect many people don’t realize that ‘BPA free’ may not be as safe as we are led to believe.
One out of every three adults has high blood pressure (hypertension), yet only about half of them have their blood pressure under control. Another one out of three adults has prehypertension, which means that they are on their well on their way to joining the first group. With two-thirds of American adults suffering from hypertension or prehypertension, the search is on for effective ways to lower blood pressure.
A recent systematic review and meta-analysis published in the American Medical Association journal Hypertension found that probiotics are an effective means of lowering blood pressure. The researchers analyzed nine studies that included 543 participants and found that probiotic consumption lowered systolic blood pressure by 3.56 and diastolic blood pressure by 2.38 mm Hg when compared to those adults who did not take probiotics.
The blood pressure lowering effects were even stronger in people taking higher doses of probiotics and when they were taken for a period of at least eight weeks. They also found greater effect from consuming multiple rather than single strains of probiotics. These findings suggest that taking a high-dose, multi-strain probiotic for a longer duration is more effective at lowering blood pressure.
“We believe probiotics might help lower blood pressure by having other positive effects on health, including improving total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein, or LDL, cholesterol; reducing blood glucose and insulin resistance; and by helping to regulate the hormone system that regulates blood pressure and fluid balance,” stated Jing Sun, PhD, lead researcher.
The reduction of blood pressure in this analysis, although modest, is similar to that found in another analysis of salt reduction of 2,000 mg daily. Even modest blood pressure reductions are beneficial, however, and have been associated with a 22 percent reduced risk of cardiovascular death, heart attack, or stroke.
The benefits of probiotics for conditions outside the gut are growing at a rapid pace. This new analysis is excellent evidence that what happens in your gut affects the rest of your body. Keep taking your probiotics.
Prediabetes is a precursor to type 2 diabetes. It means that blood sugar levels are elevated, but not quite high enough to be considered full-blown diabetes. Without intervention, prediabetes will likely become type 2 diabetes within 10 years. At least 86 million US adults over age 20 have prediabetes, yet 9 out of 10 of them do not even know it. That means over 77 million adults are walking around with prediabetes unknowingly right this moment. That’s a startling fact.
Over the past few years, scientists have been uncovering a link between gut bacteria and the development of metabolic conditions such as diabetes. The research is fascinating. A study recently presented at the meeting of the International Society of Endocrinology and the Endocrine Society helps to further our understanding of this link.
Twenty eight adults with prediabetes were given a new drug that contains bioactive food ingredients: inulin (a prebiotic fiber), beta glucan (another fiber), and polyphenolic antioxidant compounds, or a placebo twice daily for four weeks. The drug, called NM504, is the first in a new class of therapies called GI microbiome modulators. After four weeks, the group who had taken the prebiotic/fiber/antioxidant drug had lower blood sugar levels and improved insulin sensitivity (the body’s ability to lower blood sugar levels) when compared to those taking placebo.
“We believe that modern Western diets contribute to development of type 2 diabetes, in part because they change the habitat of the microorganisms that reside in the gut. This shifts the microbial populations that live there in ways that affect metabolic health,” noted Mark Heiman, PhD, lead researcher. “This work indicates a new therapeutic target—the GI microbiome—that has the potential to revolutionize the treatment of metabolic diseases such as type 2 diabetes.”
These findings support the idea that it’s not only what you eat—but what your gut microbes do with what you eat—that affects your health. Choosing foods that support a healthy balance of microbes in your gut is the first step to gaining control of your health.
- Eat plenty of living foods: non-starchy vegetables, low-sugar fruits, and fermented foods.
- Eat more healthy fats.
- Steer clear of sugar, grains, and starchy foods that affect blood sugar and feed potentially harmful bacteria.
- Eat protein at every meal and snack.
Eosinophilic esophagitis (EoE) involves an inflammatory response in the esophagus that causes stiffening or swelling and leads to difficulty swallowing or food getting stuck. High amounts of white blood cells called eosinophils are found in the esophagus tissue in people with this condition. In most cases, people with EoE have other allergic conditions such as asthma, rhinitis, eczema, or food allergy, or they have a family history of allergy. In fact, environmental or food allergies are considered to be the main triggers of the condition, along with acid reflux.
EoE was once thought to be a rare disease, but has recently been recognized more frequently in children and young adults. It is thought that the disease is increasing at a similar rate as other allergic diseases—asthma and allergic rhinitis.1
There are currently no FDA-approved drugs to treat EoE, but it is commonly treated with proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) and/or topical or inhaled corticosteroids that are swallowed to help reduce inflammation in the esophagus. Studies in children have found success with elimination diets, but studies in adults have not been as plentiful. A recent study published in the journal Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology sought to determine the efficacy of such diets in adults.2
Of 31 adults enrolled in the study, 22 followed a targeted elimination diet, in which foods identified as allergens by the patient or by skin prick testing were eliminated, and nine followed a six-food elimination diet (SFED) that removed dairy, wheat, nuts, eggs, seafood, and soy. The majority of patients following either diet experienced relief of symptoms as well as substantial decreases in accumulation of immune cells in esophageal tissue. No significant difference between effects of the two diets was detected.
“These strong results support dietary elimination therapy as an effective treatment for adults suffering from eosinophilic esophagitis,” stated W. Asher Wold, MD, MPH, lead author.
The study included patients for whom steroid therapy had not been effective, and its success is promising given the lack of other treatment options for this condition. Long-term steroid and PPI use is associated with many side effects, so knowing that there is an easy treatment that might reap additional health benefits given the allergic status of most of these individuals, is reassuring.
When anyone is experiencing any type of allergy it may be wise to eliminate the six foods mentioned above: wheat, dairy, nuts, eggs, seafood, and soy. This could be done for a month to see if there is any improvement. One food at a time could then be reintroduced to see if symptoms return. In general, if one chooses to eat these six allergen producing foods, they should be eaten sparingly and no more than once every four to seven days. If allergies persist and there are any problems with swallowing, it would be worthwhile to see a gastroenterologist and consider endoscopy to rule out EoE. Once again Hippocrates is correct in saying “Let your food be your medicine, and let your medicine be your food,” as long as they are the right foods.
2. Wolf WA, Jerath MR, Sperry SL, et al., “Dietary elimination therapy is an effective option for adults with eosinophilic esophagitis.” Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2014 Aug;12(8):1272-9.
Omega-3 fatty acids are most widely known for their heart and brain benefits. Taking an omega-3 supplement high in EPA and DHA every day can protect against heart disease and improve brain health, certainly, but you might not realize that these healthy fats are also good for your gums—DHA in particular.
Gum disease, or periodontal disease, affects up to 50 percent of the US population and is the second most common disease worldwide. Current treatment involves cleaning and local antibiotic application. Dietary solutions for reducing the disease are needed, and a recent study published in the Journal of Dental Research may have a solution. The study results indicate that daily DHA supplementation decreases the average depth of pockets between teeth and gums (the deeper the depth the greater the gum disease). They also found a reduction of inflammation in the gums and a lower gingival index, a measure of gum disease severity.
“In this randomized, controlled trial, aspirin-triggered DHA supplementation significantly improved periodontal outcomes in people with periodontitis, indicating its potential therapeutic efficacy,” noted the researchers.
The study involved 46 adults with moderate periodontal disease who took either 2,000 mg DHA plus aspirin or placebo plus aspirin daily for three months. The researchers measured DHA levels in red blood cell membranes, a marker of long-term omega-3 intake, and found that DHA levels increased in the DHA group, but not in the placebo group, as expected. Those participants taking DHA had lower levels of C-reactive protein (CRP) and interleukin-1 beta (IL-1 beta), both markers of inflammation associated with periodontal disease.
Back in 2010, Japanese researchers reported that dental disease events were 1.5 times higher in people with low DHA levels when compared to those with high DHA levels, establishing a link between DHA and dental health. It looks like it’s time to add periodontal health to the long list of omega-3 benefits.
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
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
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
Are you still counting calories when it comes to weight loss? What if I told you it’s not necessary—and that the secret to permanent weight loss might just be in the last place you’d ever expect?
I’m excited to announce that in just a few months my new book will be available, and what an amazing journey it has been. I can’t wait to share with you everything I learned along the way, especially since this book brings together many of the things I’m so passionate about, like the importance of a balanced gut and its connection to not only healthy digestion, but also the health of the entire body—and it can also help you finally lose weight and keep it off for good.
The Skinny Gut Diet: Balance Your Digestive System for Permanent Weight Loss is the culmination of years of research, dedication, and discovery. Not only does it reveal how successful weight loss has everything to do with the balance of bacteria in your gut, but it provides a simple and easy-to-follow guide to help you finally achieve your ideal weight. Here’s the scoop: all those billions of bacteria that live in your digestive tract? They are the real reason you gain or lose weight. When those microbes are out of balance, you absorb more extra calories from food, store more fat, and have more cravings—but by balancing the good and bad bacteria, you can finally achieve your ideal weight for good.
The Skinny Gut Diet lays out a simple 14-day eating plan to help you get started, and it all begins with eating less sugar (including the sugar that comes from starchy carbohydrates) and more healthy fats, protein, and living foods to balance your gut bacteria. And the best part? Dozens of delicious recipes! Plus you’ll be able to read real-life stories of ten everyday people who transformed their health by bringing balance back to the gut.
I hope you’re as excited as I am for the release of The Skinny Gut Diet this fall. Be sure to stay tuned to www.BrendaWatson.com for updates—or go to SkinnyGutDiet.com for a sneak peak at what the book is all about—and get ready to forever transform the way you think about weight loss! Plus, if you pre-order now, you’ll get access to 7 exclusive gifts.