The Standard American Diet (SAD) is notably a high-carbohydrate diet (among its many other unhealthy features), which is a big reason why I advocate against this diet. Many people are reducing carbohydrate intake from sugars and starchy foods such as breads, pastas, and cereals. But are we taking a close enough look at infant diets? A recent study published in the American Journal of Physiology found, in an animal model, that a high-carbohydrate diet during infancy leads to increased insulin levels that would predispose the child to develop obesity later in life.
“Many American baby foods and juices are high in carbohydrates, mainly simple sugars,” stated Mulchand Patel, PhD, lead researcher of the study. “Our hypothesis has been that the introduction of baby foods too early in life increases carbohydrate intake, thereby boosting insulin secretion and causing metabolic programming that, in turn, predisposes the child to obesity later in life.”
“During this critical period, the hypothalamus, which regulates appetite, becomes programmed to drive the individual to eat more food,” stated Patel. To avoid this reprogramming, he recommends that solid foods should not be given to infants before 4 to 6 months of age.
Let me emphasize that I am not recommending a low-carbohydrate diet for infants. But added sugars are certainly not necessary. There is no good reason to add sugars to infant foods. And introduction of solid foods should not come too early, as these researchers note. But more studies will be needed to determine the effects of diet at such a young age.
Childhood obesity is one of the greatest health challenges in today’s world. Over one third of children and adolescents are obese or overweight according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The obesity rate has more than doubled in children and tripled in adolescents in the past 30 years. Obese children are at increased risk of having prediabetes, heart disease risk factors like high cholesterol and high blood pressure, and bone and joint problems—all at such a young age.
That’s not all—obese children and adolescents are more likely to be obese adults, with the accompanying increased risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, cancer, and osteoarthritis. The Standard American Diet (SAD) is largely to blame for the childhood obesity epidemic, but that’s a topic for another day. Today I want to mention the results of a recent study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Researchers from the University of Missouri found that vitamin D supplements given to obese children with deficient or insufficient vitamin D levels helped control blood sugar by lowering insulin levels.
“By increasing vitamin D intake alone, we got a response that was nearly as powerful as what we have seen using a prescription drug,” noted Catherine Pearson, PhD, lead researcher. “We saw a decrease in insulin levels, which means better glucose control, despite no changes in body weight, dietary intake, or physical activity.” The study emphasized the importance of checking vitamin D levels, since they can vary.
“What makes vitamin D insufficiency different in obese individuals is that they process vitamin D about half as efficiently as normal-weight people,” stated Peterson. “The vitamin gets stored in their fat tissues, which keeps it from being processed. This means obese individuals need to take in about twice as much vitamin D as their lean peers to maintain sufficient levels of vitamin D.” That’s interesting—being overweight can affect your vitamin D levels. It’s an important fact that is now well known.
Vitamin D is crucial to our overall health—children, adults, and elderly alike. If you haven’t had your vitamin D levels—and those of your children—tested, I suggest you do so.
Just as it is important to attain—and maintain—physical health, we also need to work on our mental health. After all, each is related to the other. When one is out of balance, the other is affected. Just think about what happens when you are not well—it affects your emotions and thought processes, right? Well the same thing happens when you are under stress—emotionally or mentally. Your physical health suffers. It’s a vicious cycle.
In a recent study presented at the annual meeting of the American Psychosomatic Society, researchers found that women who dwelled on stressful thoughts had increased levels of C-reactive protein (CRP, a marker of inflammation) in the blood when compared to women who focused on neutral thoughts.
“More and more, chronic inflammation is being associated with various disorders and conditions,” stated Peggy Zoccola, PhD, lead researcher. “The immune system plays an important role in various cardiovascular disorders such as heart disease, as well as cancer, dementia, and autoimmune diseases.”
Have you ever replayed a bad situation in your head, over and over, until you ended up a worried mess? Or do you ever have trouble shaking a negative interaction between you and someone else? You’re certainly not alone, but hopefully this research will inspire you to “let it go” more often. Your health depends on it.
We now know that fat tissue is not simply a storage unit for fat, but is considered to be an organ in its own right. Fat tissue, or adipose tissue, has hormonal, metabolic, and inflammatory functions that play a role in many different areas of health and disease. The fat cell, or adipocyte, secretes a number of proteins including adiponectin, a protein that exerts potent insulin-sensitizing and anti-inflammatory effects.
Insulin sensitivity is the condition in which insulin is able to function as the “key” that opens the “door” of the cell so that glucose in the blood moves from the blood into the cell, thereby helping to stabilize blood sugar. You want your cells to be insulin sensitive rather than insulin resistant. Adiponectin helps your cells become and remain insulin sensitive.
High circulating levels of adiponectin are associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes and coronary heart disease.1,2 Experimental studies have found that omega-3 consumption increases circulating levels of adiponectin, but until recently, this had not been confirmed in humans. In a recent systematic review and meta-analysis published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, researchers reviewed 14 randomized controlled trials and found that fish oil supplementation significantly increased circulating adiponectin levels.3
This research supports the beneficial effects of fish oil in humans, building on previous experimental studies. “Our findings provide support that these pathways identified in vitro and in vivo may have functional relevance to effects of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids on adipocyte levels in humans,” stated the researchers. “These findings support potential beneficial effects of fish oil supplementation on pathways related to adipocyte health and adiponectin metabolism.” Fish oil dosage in the studies ranged from 700 mg to 2 grams daily.
You can also increase adiponectin with exercise and a high-fiber diet rich in vegetables and low-sugar fruit, healthy fats, lean proteins, nuts, and seeds, all healthy lifestyle factors Brenda and I have been promoting from the beginning.
- Li S, Shin HJ, Ding EL, et al., “Adiponectin levels and risk of type 2 diabetes: a systematic review and meta-analysis.” JAMA. 2009 Jul 8;302(2):179-88.
- Sattar N, Wannamethee G, Sarwar N, et al., “Adiponectin and coronary heart disease: a prospective study and meta-analysis.” Circulation. 2006 Aug 15;114(7):623-9.
- Wu JHY, Cahill LE, and Mozaffarian D, “Effect of fish oil on circulating adiponectin: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials.” J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2013 epub ahead of print. doi: 10.1210/jc.2012-3899.
Leonard Smith, M.D.
Dr. Leonard Smith is a prominent Board-Certified, general, gastrointestinal and vascular surgeon who had a successful private practice for 25 years. In addition to his active surgery practice, he also incorporated lifestyle, diet, supplementation, exercise, detoxification, and stress management into many of the therapies he would prescribe. Many of his patients with cancer, cardiovascular disease, and other serious illnesses did so well under his treatment regimes that he began to devote most of his career to foundational health care and preventive medicine.
The cholesterol story is getting interesting. It used to be that “high cholesterol”—meaning high total cholesterol—caused people to worry about heart health. Then they realized it was more important to look a little closer at the two types of cholesterol—the “good” and “bad” cholesterol, which actually refers to the carriers of the cholesterol rather than the cholesterol itself. LDL cholesterol is considered bad, and HDL is considered good. High LDL cholesterol levels and/or low HDL cholesterol levels are considered risks for heart disease.
Or so we thought.
What most people do not realize is that LDL cholesterol is not measured. It is simply calculated based on other measured levels. This calculation, known as the Friedwald calculation, came about because it is much less work (read: less expensive) to calculate rather than measure. The calculation uses total cholesterol, HDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels to determine LDL. So when your doctor tells you that your LDL cholesterol is high, borderline, or even low, remember that this is only a rough estimate.
A recent study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology is shedding some light on this topic. “In our study, we compared samples assessed using the Friedwald equation with a direct calculation of the LDL cholesterol. We found that in nearly one out of four samples in the ‘desirable’ range for people with a higher heart disease risk, the Friedwald calculation had it wrong,” stated lead researcher Seth Martin, MD.
Some people with Friedwald-calculated LDL levels thought to be protective of heart health were actually at higher risk. This was true particularly in people who also had high triglyceride levels. The researchers suggest looking at “non-HDL” levels, which includes LDL as well as VLDL and IDL levels. Non-HDL levels can be found on the standard blood tests, and so are suggested as a more accurate, yet cost-effective, marker of heart health.
These researchers are headed in the right direction. However, what we really need to be looking at is the state in which the LDL particles are in. Particle size, particle number, and LDL oxidation levels give an even more accurate view of what is really happening in the arteries when it comes to cholesterol. I cover this concept more extensively in my book, Heart of Perfect Health, which is available through my PBS show of the same name. Integrative and functional medicine doctors are familiar with these cholesterol tests. You can find one here: http://www.acam.org or http://www.functionalmedicine.org
Our understanding of the gut connection to overall health is always expanding. From the gut-brain and gut-skin connection to the gut-joint and gut-immune connection, it’s obvious that gut health is crucial for overall health. A new study published in the Journal of Cellular Physiology is helping to solidify yet another gut connection: the gut-bone connection. Using an animal model, the researchers found that the probiotic Lactobacillus reuteri enhanced bone density in males, but not females, after four weeks.
“We know that inflammation in the gut can cause bone loss, though it’s unclear exactly why,” noted lead researcher Laura McCabe, PhD. “The neat thing we found is that a probiotic can enhance bone density.” More studies are needed to determine whether this probiotic has the same effect in humans, but it provides a great starting point. We already have so many amazing examples of how probiotics affect many different areas of health.
“Through food fermentation, we’ve been eating bacteria that we classify as probiotics for thousands of years,” stated Robert Britton, PhD, another researcher. “There’s evidence that this bacterium as a species has co-evolved with humans. It’s indigenous to our intestinal tracts and is something that, if missing, might cause problems.”
Could an optimal gut balance be the answer to osteoporosis, a condition that involves the thinning and weakening of bones? Current drug treatments for this condition modify the bone remodeling process in a way that can actually make bones prone to breaking. Perhaps one day we will look to our digestive tracts to help us improve bone health. The gut is certainly where I recommend we begin any health journey.
When you experience stress, especially on a regular basis, gut-brain interactions result in a decrease of inflammasomes—immune compounds that help maintain gut bacterial balance. This is one way stress leads to gut imbalance, or dysbiosis—an imbalance in the ratio of good to bad bacteria in the gut. Chronic stress is almost the norm in today’s world, however. So how can we minimize the damage to our digestion?
A recent study published in the journal Gastroenterology may hold a clue. The researchers found in an animal model that a probiotic supplement containing Bifidobacterium bifidum, Lactobacillus acidophilus, and Streptococcus faecalis reduced the inflammatory effects of stress in the gut. “The effect of stress could be protected with probiotics which reversed the inhibition of the inflammasome,” stated John Kao, MD, lead researcher. “This study reveals an important mechanism for explaining why treating IBS patients with probiotics makes sense.”
Kao noted that additional clinical studies would be needed to determine the proper therapy in humans. “Patients can start living healthier lifestyles to improve their gut microbiota such as adding more fruits and vegetables to their diet, and looking for ways to keep stress in check.”
Yet another recent study published in the same journal found that a fermented milk product containing Bifidobacterium lactis, Streptococcus thermophilus, Lactobacillus bulgaricus, and Lactococcus lactis affected brain communication related to emotion and sensation. This proof-of-concept study was successful in showing that brain activity is affected by probiotics even in healthy women, noted the researchers.
More work is needed to determine how the bacteria induce these changes, and what effects on behavior and mood result. “Identification of the signaling pathways between the microbiota and the brain in humans is needed to solidify our understanding of microbiota gut brain interactions. If confirmed, modulation of the gut flora may provide novel targets for the treatment of patients with abnormal pain and stress responses associated with gut dysbiosis,” they stated.
Interest in the gut-brain connection is greatly increasing. This concept, which was at one time scoffed at by many in mainstream medicine (and likely still is today to some extent), is hitting the limelight. The idea that our overall health is determined by the health of our digestive tract is finally becoming obvious. It is no longer ignorable. I am glad to have been an early proponent of this concept, and as I watch it evolve, I am honored to still be shouting this message from the rooftops. I hope you’ll join me.
I talk a lot about toxin exposure and its effect on our health because it’s an important topic. Once toxins are ingested, if they are not properly eliminated through our seven channels of elimination—colon, liver, lungs, lymph, kidneys, skin, and blood—they get stored in the body, often in fat cells. A certain group of toxins known as persistent organic pollutants (POPs) are particularly known to be stored in fat cells where they exert a number of negative effects according to a recent review published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.
The most common POPs include PCBs, DDT, and dioxins, but they also include a wide range of toxins used in many different industries. According to the study, “POPs are environmentally and biologically persistent, which leads to their bioaccumulation and biomagnification up the food chain. Fatty foods of animal origin (e.g. meat, fish, dairy) are important vectors of several classes of POPs, including dioxins and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).”
The accumulation of POPs in fat tissue is thought to decrease their ability to transfer to other tissues. But when weight loss occurs, the toxins are released into circulation where they can again access different areas of the body before they are removed via bowel movements. While inside fat cells, POPs exert negative effects that interfere with the function of fat cells.
It used to be thought that fat tissue was merely a storage tissue, but this notion no longer holds true. In fact, fat tissue is considered to be an organ of its own, exerting metabolic and hormonal effects that play an important role in overall health. When toxins are stored in fat tissue, its function is altered. This can lead to poor health.
Because fatty animal-based foods are known to store these toxins, choose organic versions when possible to minimize your exposure. In addition, support the seven channels of elimination with regular cleansing and detoxification.
I’m excited to announce that my Public Television shows—Heart of Perfect Health and The Road to Perfect Health—will be airing again this month from June 1st through June 16th. You’ll find a wealth of surprising and life-changing information on how Americans can live longer, healthier and more productive lives.
For the past 20 years, many of you have been with me as I’ve uncovered the core of optimum health, sharing my personal and in-depth experiences with digestive care, digestive disease, and its many health repercussions. I’m very thankful that my books, health supplements, Public Television shows and clinics have been able to reach millions across America. My goal has been to provide the tools to transform your health through a powerfully simple and integrated approach.
Heart of Perfect Health: The Startling Truths About Heart Disease
In Heart of Perfect Health, you’ll watch as I uncover the root of America’s #1 killer, heart disease, in a hidden condition known as silent inflammation.
Silent inflammation is so pervasive—and evasive—that most people have no idea it is happening to them. Yet research now tells us that silent inflammation is directly linked to high blood pressure, high cholesterol, high blood sugar, and obesity, which all lead to heart disease and diabetes. This is information that is vital to our nation’s health.
Heart of Perfect Health is not simply about uncovering the problem of silent inflammation, but more importantly, about the real and accessible solutions we all have to stop silent inflammation and improve heart disease health markers—high cholesterol, high blood pressure and high blood sugar.
We don’t think of the gut when we think of heart disease, though these two areas of the body are indeed linked. My new PBS show details this connection and what we can do to reverse the vicious cycle of silent inflammation for good, and avoid becoming another health statistic.
I have a feeling you’ll be shocked at what is causing your silent inflammation and then delighted with the power you hold to turn it around, starting in your own kitchen.
The Road to Perfect Health: Balance Your Gut, Heal Your Body
So many people in our lives are suffering—waking up every day with problems like poor digestion, fatigue, weight gain, anxiety, joint pain and so much more—but it doesn’t have to be that way. The secret to a healthy body begins with a healthy digestive system, and the information in The Road to Perfect Health will teach you all about what’s going on inside your gut and why it’s so important to keep your digestive system running smoothly.
Join me and together we’ll look at the trillions of good bacteria living inside your gut that help your body absorb nutrients, defend against toxins, fight off illness and disease, and yes, even help with problems like constipation, irritable bowel and other digestive issues. Those good-for-you bacteria are called probiotics, and they’re the key to a strong Gut Protection System—or GPS for short!
Just like the GPS in your car, all those good bacteria in your gut help keep you on the path to better health. But what happens when your GPS isn’t working right? You can get lost, and just like getting lost on the road, we sometimes lose our way on the road to better health and end up stuck in a rut of illness and poor digestion.
I hope you’ll tune in this month to learn the secret to rebuilding your health from the inside out. It’s time to balance your gut and heal your body! Check your local PBS station for dates and times. Visit the station finder to find local listings in your area.
Air pollution is a big problem. Increased exposure to air pollution has been linked to so many health conditions, some of which Dr. Smith and I have blogged about in the past. A number of studies have come out recently about the harmful effects of air pollution on children, in particular. Children are at greater risk of exposure to toxins because they are still developing, which makes them more sensitive to toxins.
A recent study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives found that exposure to air pollution in utero or during early life may increase the risk of respiratory tract infections in infants. They found that exposure during the second trimester was slightly stronger than during other trimesters, suggesting the second trimester to be a time when exposure to air pollution is particularly damaging to respiratory health. Further studies of these children will help determine whether exposure to air pollution also increases asthma risk later in life.
That’s not all. Another study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that exposure to traffic-related air pollution during pregnancy and the first year of life is associated with more than double the risk of developing autism. “This work has broad potential public health implications,” stated Heather Volk, PhD, lead investigator of the study. “We’ve known for a long time that air pollution is bad for our lungs, and especially for children. We’re now beginning to understand how air pollution may affect the brain.” She explains that air pollution is made up of tiny particles that trigger inflammation when inhaled. “The components of these particles could be hazardous to the brain,” she stated.
Yet another recent study published in the journal Diabetologia found that levels of insulin resistance were higher in children exposed to higher amounts of air pollution. For example, proximity to the nearest major road increased insulin sensitivity in 10-year-old children by 7% every 500 metres. Whether these children go on to develop metabolic syndrome or type 2 diabetes remains to be seen (the researchers plan to do a follow-up study to track it), but this research is telling.
Toxin exposure, which certainly includes air pollution, is a major, difficult-to-control factor that is affecting our health and the health of our children. Fortunately, I have a small piece of good news—levels of air pollution are declining. What’s more, a recent study published in the journal Epidemiology has found that because of this decline, life expectancy is improving. In 545 counties throughout the country they found that air pollution levels have declined along with increases in life expectancy.
We still have a way to go, however. “Despite the fact that the US population as a whole is exposed to much lower levels of air pollution than 30 years ago—because of great strides made to reduce people’s exposure—it appears that further restrictions in air pollution levels would continue to benefit public health,” stated lead author Andrew Correia, PhD. I’m optimistic that studies like the ones I’ve reported on here will have a positive influence on the implementation of such restrictions. We obviously have a problem that is being addressed, but not quite enough.