Digestive Care Expert Brenda Watson

TAG | anxious

I blog often about the harmful effects of bisphenol A (BPA) because this harmful chemical is found in over 90 percent of people in the U.S., and it has been linked to an array of health conditions. BPA is a hormone disruptor. That is, it acts as an estrogen imposter, interfering with hormone function in the body. BPA is found in food and beverage containers and linings, dental sealants, medical equipment, and thermal receipt paper.

The main source of BPA exposure is the diet, primarily from food that has come into contact with BPA laden containers. A recent study published in the journal Pediatrics and funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has found that 3-year-old daughters of women with the highest urine levels of BPA when they were pregnant are more likely to exhibit anxious, depressive, and hyperactive behaviors when compared to those girls whose mothers had the lowest levels of BPA in urine during pregnancy. Boys were also analyzed in this study, but the relationship between BPA levels and behavior was not found in boys.

Previous studies have found a relationship between BPA exposure and impaired social behaviors in children, but a difference between boys and girls was not found. Further studies will be needed to investigate this relationship to determine if a true gender difference exists.

Another recent study published in the journal Circulation found that increased urinary BPA levels were associated with an increased risk of developing heart disease ten years later. The researchers say, “This study strengthens the statistical link between BPA and heart disease, but we can’t be certain that BPA itself is responsible.” The researchers recommend that government agencies organize safety trials of BPA in humans to determine what (if any) levels are safe for human health.

Concern about the dangers of BPA is widespread. In other recent news, Campbell’s Soup has announced that it has begun to remove BPA from some of its canned products, and plans to completely remove it from all products by 2015. This is a big move for such a prominent company. Not that I recommend Campbell’s Soup products, which are over-processed and under-nutritious at best, but I do give kudos to them for taking a big step in a positive direction here. I hope this inspires more companies to remove this toxic chemical from their products.



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Omega-3s for Anxiety

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Anxiety, or worry, is experienced by just about everyone at some point. Some people have anxiety disorders, which are more serious conditions, but it’s safe to say that most people experience at least occasional anxiety. That’s why a new study on omega-3s found in fish oil is so exciting. It’s the first study to look at the effects of fish oil on anxiety in a healthy population—meaning, in people who don’t already have an anxiety disorder. It’s already known that fish oil can be helpful for those people. But what about people who only experience anxiety here and there?

The researchers took a group of medical students and gave them omega-3 supplements for three months. The supplements contained 2,085 mg of EPA and 348 mg of DHA. Another group got a placebo. After three months, the group taking the fish oil showed a 20 percent reduction in anxiety scores and a 14 percent reduction in the production of the inflammatory marker interleukin-6 (IL-6) over the placebo group.

IL-6 is an inflammatory cytokine. Depression and anxiety are both known to involve the production of inflammatory cytokines. This is one of the gut-brain connections, actually, since the inflammation can originate in the gut. Omega-3s were able to reduce these inflammatory compounds, highlighting just one way they may be helping mood disorders like depression and anxiety.

This week, if you tend to get anxious about things, even if occasionally, and you’re not taking fish oil, you might want to reconsider. The studies on fish oil are hard to ignore.

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The gut-brain connection is an interesting one because it travels in two directions—from the brain to the gut and from the gut to the brain. For the longest time this connection was thought to only travel in one direction, from the brain to the gut, like when strong emotions trigger an upset stomach. But researchers now know that what happens in your gut has an effect on your brain.

One recent study at the Stanford University School of Medicine tried to elucidate this connection. According to one of the researchers, “Gastric irritation during the first few days of life may reset the brain into a permanently depressed state.” Genetic susceptibility also plays a role, of course, since not all stomach upsets will lead to depression, but this connection is interesting.

The gut is connected directly to the brain by the vagus nerve, and even has a nervous system of its own—the enteric nervous system. This connection between the gut and the brain allows for close communication. Many studies are finding that the gut has a major effect on the brain. I have blogged about it before. More than once.

The researchers used an animal model of functional dyspepsia, also known as indigestion, to determine that stomach irritation early in life can lead to depressed and anxious behaviors that last much longer than the indigestion itself. Their findings will lead to more studies to investigate how this gut brain connection works, and if new ways can be found to treat depression and anxiety in humans, based on the gut-brain link.

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