400th Issue Celebration

Nutrition Breakthroughs Over The Last Two Years

celebrationIn the nearly eight years that I have been publishing “Health Tips From The Professor”, I have tried to go behind the headlines to provide you with accurate, unbiased health information that you can trust and apply to your everyday life.

The 400th issue of any publication is a major cause for celebration and reflection – and “Health Tips From The Professor” is no different.

I am dedicating this issue to reviewing some of the major stories I have covered in the past 100 issues. There are lots of topics I could have covered, but I have chosen to focus on three types of articles:

  • Articles that have debunked long-standing myths about nutrition and health.
  • Articles that have corrected some of the misinformation that seems to show up on the internet on an almost daily basis.
  • Articles about the issues that most directly affect your health.

Best Ways To Lose Weight

weight lossSince it is almost January, let’s start with a couple of articles about diet and weight loss (or weight gain). I have covered the effectiveness of the Paleo, Keto, Mediterranean, DASH, vegetarian, and Vegan diets for both short and long-term weight loss in my book “Slaying The Food Myths”, so I won’t repeat that information here.

Instead, I will revisit two articles – one which questions the validity of a popular diet and one about a cause of weight gain that most Americans either don’t know about or ignore.

Does intermittent fasting work?

Intermittent fasting is all the rage. Its proponents claim it is a miracle diet that will make you leaner and healthier without forcing you to forgo the foods you love. In this issue of “Health Tips From the Professor”, I reviewed intermittent fasting and told you which claims were based on solid science and which were simply hype.

Do Ultra-Processed Foods Make You Fat?

What is the secret for successful weight loss? Is it low fat, low carb, low sugar, paleo, keto, vegan, or intermittent fasting? The possibilities seem endless, and they are contradictory. In this issue of “Health Tips From the Professor”, I share a recent study that suggests the real secret to weight control may be none of the above.

The one common feature of every popular diet is they cut out sodas and processed foods and replace them with whole, unprocessed foods. What if cutting out highly processed foods was the secret to successful weight loss, and none of the other restrictions of the various diets really mattered? That’s what this study suggests.

Healthy Diets

healthy foodsThis is my favorite topic. Here are some of the best articles about the effect of diet on our health from the past two years.

Is Your Diet Destroying the Planet?

You believe in preserving the environment. You save energy. You recycle. You drive an energy efficient car. But are you destroying the environment with every bite you put into your mouth? In this issue of “Health Tips From the Professor”, I discussed the Planetary Diet and what it means for you and for the planet.

What Is The Best Diet To Prevent Heart Disease?

What is the best diet to prevent heart disease? Is it the one recommended by the American Heart Association? Or is it Mediterranean, vegan, paleo, or keto? Or, perhaps, is it none of those diets? In this issue of “Health Tips From the Professor”, I shared a different way for thinking about diets and our health.

Can Plant-Based Diets Be Unhealthy?

In some circles, a plant-based diet is considered next to Godliness. You have been told that a plant-based diet will guarantee you a longer, healthier life. But is that true of all plant-based diets? In this issue of “Health Tips From the Professor”, I shared a study that suggests some plant-based diets may actually be unhealthy and told you which plant-based foods are good for you and which are bad for you.

Can A Healthy Diet Prevent Alzheimer’s?

You are worried. You have a family history of Alzheimer’s or you have had your genes tested and learned you are a high risk for developing Alzheimer’s. Do bad genes doom you to Alzheimer’s? In this issue of “Health Tips From the Professor”, I shared a study that suggests the answer to that question is “No” and provides a strategy for overcoming even the worst genetic predisposition for dementia.

the paleo dietIs The Paleo Diet Bad For Your Heart?

There is a lot to like about the Paleo diet, but is it healthy long term? In this issue of “Health Tips From the Professor”, I shared a recent study that suggests the Paleo diet may be bad for your gut bacteria and bad for your heart.

Do Vegetarians Have A Higher Risk Of Stroke?

Vegetarian diets are supposed to be incredibly healthy, but the latest headlines claim they increase the risk of stroke. What’s going on? In this issue of “Health Tips From the Professor”, I shared the study behind the headlines and put it into perspective.

This article takes a closer look at the pluses and minuses of a vegetarian diet.

Is red meat as healthy as white meat?

You have been told that white meat is better for your heart than red meat. But now the latest headlines are saying that’s not true. The headlines claim that red meat is just as healthy as white meat. What are you to believe? In this issue of “Health Tips From the Professor”, I looked at the studies behind the headlines and showed you how the beef industry influences clinical studies to support the consumption of red meat.

Impossible BurgerIs The Impossible Burger Healthy For You?

A new generation of meatless burgers has arrived. Are the Impossible Burger and its competitors healthier than regular burgers? Are they better for the planet?  In this issue of “Health Tips From the Professor”, I evaluated the health and environmental claims of these new meatless burgers.

Which Foods Affect Stroke Risk?

What foods should we eat to reduce our risk of stroke? We keep getting conflicting information from the media. Why is diet and stroke risk so confusing? In this issue of “Health Tips From the Professor”, I discussed the latest study of which foods affect stroke risk and why the headlines about diet and stroke risk have been so confusing.

Which Foods Should I Avoid?

Some health gurus tell you to avoid red meat and saturated fat. Others tell you to avoid sugar and carbohydrates. It is so confusing. In this issue of “Health Tips From the Professor”, I shared a study that looked at all the possibilities and recommended which foods to avoid. You may be surprised.

Should I Avoid Whole Grains?

If you believe Dr. Strangelove, whole grains have gone from “heroes” to “villains”. Which is true? Should you include whole grains in your diet, or should you avoid them? In this issue of “Health Tips From the Professor”, I shared a recent study that sheds light on this important question.

Do Processed Foods Increase Your Risk Of Diabetes?

Most of us instinctively know that highly processed foods are bad for us. They have been linked to obesity and multiple diseases. And the list keeps growing. In this issue of “Health Tips From the Professor”, I shared a study on the effect of highly processed foods on your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Healthy Lifestyle

Of course, diet is just one part of a healthy lifestyle. Weight control, exercise and other lifestyle factors are important in determining our overall health. Here are a couple of articles that focused more broadly on a healthy lifestyle.

Heart Disease StudyWhy are heart attacks increasing in young women?

Heart attack rates are decreasing in the general population. So, why are they increasing in young women? In this issue of “Health Tips From the Professor”, I discussed the latest study on heart attack rates in young people and what the study may mean for you.

Why is colon cancer increasing in young adults?

Last week we learned that heart attacks were increasing in young women. This week we learn that colon cancer is increasing in young adults. What the heck is going on? In this issue of “Health Tips From the Professor”, I discussed the latest study on colon cancer rates in young people and what the study may mean for you.

Eggs And Heart Disease

are eggs good for youDo eggs increase heart disease risk?

The egg rollercoaster continues. Last year we heard that an egg a day was good for your heart. The latest headlines warn that eating eggs increases your risk of heart disease. In this issue of “Health Tips From the Professor”, I discussed the latest study on eggs and what the study may mean for you.

What Is The Truth About Eggs And Heart Disease?

The eggfusion (egg confusion) continues. Several major studies over the past few years have come to opposite conclusions about the effect of eggs on our risk of heart disease and stroke. What is the truth about eggs? In this issue of “Health Tips From the Professor”, I shared a very large study which clears up the eggfusion.

Omega-3s

There have been a lot of studies on the effect of omega-3s on our health over the past two years, but let me share a few that have updated the information I shared in the first 300 “Health Tips From The Professor” articles.

omega 3 supplementsDoes Omega-3 Supplementation Reduce Your Risk Of Heart Disease?

Does omega-3 supplementation reduce the risk of heart disease or doesn’t it? The headlines keep changing. What is the truth? In this issue of “Health Tips From the Professor”, I shared the latest studies on omega-3 supplementation and heart disease risk and put them into perspective for you.

How Much Omega-3s Do We Need?

Two recent clinical studies have provided strong evidence that omega-3 supplementation can reduce heart attacks. Those studies used high-dose omega-3 supplementation, and they did not measure dose response. This raises the question of exactly how much omega-3s do we need to significantly reduce heart disease risk. In this issue of “Health Tips From the Professor”, I discussed a recent study that answers that question and more.

What Does The FDA Say About Omega-3s And Blood Pressure?

The FDA has finally acknowledged what scientists have known for years: Omega-3s represent a safe, natural way to help keep your blood pressure under control. In this issue of “Health Tips From the Professor”, I discussed the FDA’s recent ruling and described the studies showing that omega-3s play an important role in a holistic program for keeping your blood pressure under control.

Are Pregnant Women & Children Dangerously Deficient in Omega-3s?

You have probably heard that most Americans don’t get enough omega-3s in their diet. Just how deficient are we? Should pregnant women and mothers of young children be concerned? In this issue of “Health Tips From the Professor”, I answered those questions.

Vitamin D

vitamin dThere also have been a lot of studies on the effect of vitamin D on our health over the past two years I will share a couple of articles that updated the previous information I have shared with you.

Does vitamin D reduce Cancer deaths? 

The headlines about Vitamin D are confusing. Is vitamin D a panacea or a placebo? In this issue of “Health Tips From the Professor”, I shared a recent meta-analysis that suggests vitamin D supplementation reduces cancer deaths and discuss why clinical studies about vitamin D supplementation are so confusing.

What Is The Truth About Vitamin D And Respiratory Diseases Like COVID-19?

The days are getting shorter and your sun exposure is decreasing. We are also in the midst of a serious pandemic. How important is it for you to maintain optimal vitamin D levels? In this issue of “Health Tips From the Professor”, I shared a study on the importance of vitamin D for reducing the risk of respiratory disease and COVID-19.

Misleading Clinical Studies

I base all my recommendations on well-designed clinical studies. But sometimes even well-designed studies can be misleading. Here are some examples.

Question MarkCan you believe clinical studies?

We get lots of advice in today’s world – from our friends, from our trainer, from Dr. Strangelove’s nutrition blog, from our doctors – even from learned “experts”. We are told the advice is based on clinical studies. But are recommendations based on published clinical studies true…for you? Maybe, maybe not. In this issue of “Health Tips From the Professor”, I shared a “secret” about clinical studies that no one else has told you.

Does magnesium optimize vitamin D levels?

Why have so many clinical studies on the benefits of vitamin and mineral supplementation come up empty? One reason may be that most clinical studies treat them as “Magic Bullets”. Each vitamin and mineral is tested individually for their ability to reduce disease risk. Are these studies doomed to fail because they don’t take a holistic approach? In this issue of “Health Tips From the Professor”, I will discussed a recent study on the interaction between magnesium and vitamin D and why it makes a strong case for a holistic approach to supplementation.

Does Vitamin D Prevent Depression?

The latest headlines claim that vitamin D doesn’t reduce the risk of becoming depressed. Are the headlines true? In this issue of “Health Tips From the Professor”, I reviewed the study behind the headlines and told you why you can’t believe everything you read.

The Bottom Line 

I have just touched on a few of my most popular articles above. You may want to scroll through these articles to find ones of interest to you that you might have missed over the last two years. If you don’t see topics that you are looking for, just go to https://chaneyhealth.com/healthtips/ and type the appropriate term in the search box.

In the coming years, you can look for more articles debunking myths, exposing lies and providing balance to the debate about the health topics that affect you directly. As always, I pledge to provide you with scientifically accurate, balanced information that you can trust. I will continue to do my best to present this information in a clear and concise manner so that you can understand it and apply it to your life.

If you have other topics that you would like me to cover, please click on the link below to enter your suggestions in the comment box.

Final Comment: You may wish to share the valuable resources in this article with others. If you do, then copy the link at the top and bottom of this page into your email. If you just forward this email and the recipient unsubscribes, it will unsubscribe you as well.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

 

Is The Keto Diet Best For Endurance Exercise?

Where Do Food Myths Come From?

ketogenic dietI don’t need to tell you that the keto diet is popular right now. It is touted for weight loss, mental sharpness, and improved health. I discuss the accuracy of those claims in my book, “Slaying the Food Myths”.

Perhaps more surprising has been the adoption of the keto diet by so many endurance athletes. As I point out in my book, there is a kernel of truth for that idea. Fats and ketone bodies are a very efficient energy source for low to moderate intensity exercise, and we have a virtually unlimited source of stored fat that can be converted to ketone bodies.

However, I always add this caveat, “The keto diet is perfect for endurance exercise – as long as you don’t care how fast you get there”. That is because high intensity exercise requires muscle glycogen stores, which come from the carbohydrates we eat. When you cut carbs from the diet, you deplete your glycogen stores.

And, if you are running a marathon and you want to sprint to the finish line, you will need those muscle glycogen stores. Or, if you are in a cycling event and you want to power up a mountain, you will need those glycogen stores.

Of course, you are probably asking, “Why do so many endurance athletes swear by the keto diet?” There is a dirty little secret behind athlete endorsements. I’m not talking about the money that top athletes get paid for endorsements, although that is also a problem.

I’m talking about the testimonials you hear from your friend who runs marathons or your personal trainer. Unfortunately, testimonials from athletes are notoriously unreliable. The problem is that the placebo effect approaches 70% for athletes.

Competitive athletes are strong willed. If they think a diet or sports nutrition product will help them, they will themselves to a higher level of performance. And this happens subconsciously. They aren’t even aware that their mind is influencing their performance.

So, just because your favorite athlete endorses the keto diet doesn’t mean it is the perfect diet for you. Testimonials can be very misleading.

The important question to ask is, “Do clinical studies support the keto diet as the best diet for endurance exercise?” But, before I answer that question, let me frame the question by asking. “Where do food myths come from?” because the belief that keto diets are best for endurance exercise is a classic food myth.

Where Do Food Myths Come From?

I discussed this question at length in my book, “Slaying The Food Myths”. Let me summarize it briefly here.

Secrets Only Scientists Know: First you need to know the secrets only scientists know. Here are the top 2:

#1: Scientists design their studies to disprove previous studies. There is no glory for being the 10th person to confirm the existing paradigm. The glory comes from being the first to show the existing paradigm might be wrong. While this may seem to be a contrary approach, it is actually the strength of the scientific method.

However, it means that there will be published clinical studies on both sides of every issue.

#2: Every study has its flaws. There is no perfect study.

This is why the scientific community doesn’t base their recommendations on 2 or 3 published studies. We wait until there are 10 to 20 good quality studies and base our recommendations on what 90% of them show.

Now, let me contrast the scientific approach with how food myths are born.

Where Do Food Myths Come From? Food myths usually originate on blogs or websites. Often the articles are written by people with no scientific credentials. But some of them are written by doctors (I will call them Dr. Strangelove to “protect the guilty”). The articles they write have these things in common:

cherry picking studies

  • The articles are based on the biases of the author. No effort is made to look at the other side of the story.
  • The authors “cherry pick” studies that support their bias and ignore studies that contradict them.
  • They use scientific-sounding mumbo jumbo to make their hypothesis sound credible.
  • Their articles are usually spectacular. For example, they say things like, “A particular diet, food, or supplement will either cure you or kill you”, and/or “The medical community is hiding the truth from you.”
  • They never let the facts get in the way of a good story.

Since the idea sounds credible it is picked up by other blogs and websites without any fact checking (social media at its worst). Once it has been repeated often enough, it becomes generally accepted as true. It becomes a food myth. From that point on, studies that disprove the myth are often ignored.

How do you know whether a common belief is true, or just another myth? The only way to be sure is to take a balanced look at all the clinical studies, not just the studies that support the belief.

That is what the authors of a recent review paper (CP Bailey and E Hennessy, Journal of the international Society of Sports Nutrition, 17, Article number: 33, 2020) did for the belief that the keto diet is the best diet for endurance exercise.

Is The Keto Diet Best For Endurance Exercise?

CyclistsBefore I discuss the findings of the review article, there are two things you should know:

#1: There is little scientific research on the effectiveness of the keto diet on endurance exercise. After an exhaustive search of the literature, the authors were only able to find 7 published studies on the topic.

#2:Most sports nutrition studies are of poor quality. In general, they are very small studies, are of short duration, and do not use common test procedures to measure a successful outcome. These studies on keto diets were no different. For example:

    • The number of subjects in these studies ranged from 5 to 29 (average = 14).
    • The duration of time on the diet in these studies ranged from 3 weeks to 12 weeks (average = 5 weeks).
    • Tests used to measure the effectiveness of specific diets on endurance exercise were VO2max (the maximum amount of oxygen you can utilize during exercise), Time to exhaustion (how long you can exercise before you are exhausted), Rating of perceived exertion (feeling of fatigue at the end of the exercise), Race time (time required to complete an event), and Peak power output during the event.
    • Four studies used a treadmill to simulate endurance exercise. The other three used a stationary bike.
    • Five of the studies compared the keto diet to a high carbohydrate diet. Two studies used the keto diet only.

The results were all over the place:

Question Mark

  • Two studies reported an increase in VO2max for both the keto diet and the high carbohydrate diet. One study reported a decrease in VO2max for both diets. The other studies reported no change in VO2max. In short, there was no difference between the diets for VO2max.
  • One study reported a decrease in race time for the high carbohydrate diet and a non-significant increase in race time for the keto diet. Two other studies reported no effect of either diet on race time. In short, one study suggested the high carbohydrate diet was more effective at shortening race time. The other two studies found no effect of either diet.
  • Two studies showed an increase in time to exhaustion for both diets. One study showed a decrease in time to exhaustion for the keto diet (participants got tired more quickly). That study did not include the high carbohydrate diet for comparison. In short, there was no clear difference between the two diets for time to exhaustion.
  • One study showed that the group on the keto diet reported a higher rating of perceived exertion (were more tired) at the end of the endurance event than the group on the high carbohydrate diet. Another study found no difference between the two diets. In short, one study suggested the high carbohydrate diet was better with respect to perceived exertion (tiredness) at the end of the endurance event. Another study found no difference between the two diets.
  • One study reported that peak power was significantly greater for the group on the keto diet than the group on the high carbohydrate diet. One of the studies with the keto group reported that peak power decreased for 4 out of 5 subjects on the keto diet. In short, one study suggested that the keto diet was more effective at increasing peak power than the high carbohydrate diet. Another study suggested the keto diet decreased peak power.

The authors concluded: “When compared to a high carbohydrate diet, there are mixed findings for the effect of the keto diet on endurance performance…The limited number of published studies point to a need for more research in this field.” I would add that we need larger, better designed studies, with common measures of exercise performance.

What Does This Mean For You?

confusionYou may be wondering why I even bothered to talk about such poor-quality studies and a review that could not provide a definitive answer. In fact, that is exactly my point.

This is characteristic of the kind of “evidence” that Dr. Strangelove and his buddies present to support whatever food myth they are featuring on their website. They don’t know how to distinguish good studies from bad studies, and they “cherry pick” only the studies that support their food myth.

So, if you believe that the keto diet is best for endurance exercise, you can “cherry pick” the one published clinical study that supports your belief. You just need to ignore the other 6 published studies.

And, if you believe that a high carbohydrate diet is better for endurance exercise than the keto diet, you can “cherry pick” two clinical studies that support your belief. You just need to ignore the other 5 published clinical studies.

None of the studies are high-quality studies, and the effect of either diet on endurance exercise in these studies is miniscule.

In short, there is no convincing evidence that the keto diet is best for endurance exercise. Or, put another way, we do not have enough evidence to elevate that belief from a food myth to a recommendation we can confidently make for an endurance athlete.

The Bottom Line

A recent publication conducted an impartial review of the evidence for and against the popular belief that a keto diet is the best diet for endurance exercise. The review found only 7 poor-quality studies on this topic in the scientific literature, and the results of those studies were all over the map.

  • One study reported the keto diet was better than a high carbohydrate diet for endurance exercise.
  • Two studies reported that the high carbohydrate diet was better.
  • The other 4 studies were inconclusive.
  • None of the studies found a significant effect on endurance performance by either diet.

So, if you believe that the keto diet is best for endurance exercise, you can “cherry pick” the one published clinical study that supports your belief. You just need to ignore the other 6 published studies.

And, if you believe that a high carbohydrate diet is better for endurance exercise than the keto diet, you can “cherry pick” two clinical studies that support your belief. You just need to ignore the other 5 published clinical studies.

In short, there is no convincing evidence that the keto diet is best for endurance exercise. Or, put another way, we do not have enough evidence to elevate that belief from a food myth to a recommendation we can confidently make for an endurance athlete.

For more details, read the article above.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

Could Mom’s Stress Affect Her Baby’s Health?

How Can You Minimize Stress During Pregnancy?

StressIf you are pregnant, the advice you see on the internet can be overwhelming. There are so many things you “must do” and so many things you “must avoid” if you want a healthy baby. It’s enough to stress you out.

As if that weren’t bad enough, we are probably living through the most stressful period in recent memory. So, the last thing you want to hear is that your stress during pregnancy can affect the health of your baby.

Before I go any further, let me make it clear that the studies I will discuss in this issue of “Health Tips From the Professor” are intriguing, but they are preliminary. I don’t want to add to your stress.

Let me start by reviewing the literature:

  • Several studies suggest that stress during pregnancy is associated with preterm birth, low birthweight, and infant mortality.
  • Other studies suggest that stress during pregnancy is associated with suboptimal cognitive development, hyperactivity, and asthma in the offspring.

The big question, of course, is how a mom’s stress during pregnancy can affect the health of her child months or years later. One hypothesis is that stress affects the mom’s gut bacteria, and those gut bacteria are passed along to the child as he or she passes through the birth canal.

We know that stress can affect your gut bacteria, but can it affect your child’s gut bacteria? Studies in mice suggest it can. Today I will discuss the first large clinical study (AK Aatsinki et al, Pyschoneuroendocrinology, 119 (2020) 104754) designed to evaluate that hypothesis in humans.

How Was This Study Done?

Clinical StudyThis study was an offshoot of an ongoing FinnBrain Cohort Project, which aims to study the influence of stress exposures during pregnancy on later childhood development and health outcomes. This particular study was designed to investigate the role of chronic stress during pregnancy on the population of gut bacteria in infants. There were 399 mothers and their babies who completed this study.

All Participants in the FinnBrain Project:

  • Filled out self-reported prenatal questionnaires at gestational weeks 14, 24, and 34. These questionnaires provided background information about the health, weight, age, and education level of the moms, as well as whether they were taking antidepression medications during their pregnancy.
  • Were also asked about breast feeding 2.5 months after giving birth.
  • Duration of gestation, birth weight, and method of delivery information were obtained from Finland’s National Institute for Health and Welfare.

Participants in this study:

  • Were evaluated for depression and anxiety symptoms three times during pregnancy and at 3 months after giving birth. It should be noted that the questionnaires used to evaluate depression and anxiety symptoms did not measure the stressors (events causing the stress). Instead they were measuring the mom’s response to those stressors.
  • Cortisol levels were measured at gestational week 24 as another measure of the mother’s stress level.
  • Fecal samples were obtained from the offspring at the age of 2.5 months and analyzed for the population of gut bacteria.

Could Mom’s Stress Affect Her Baby’s Health?

Bad BacteriaThe results of this study were intriguing:

Infants born to mothers who experienced high levels of stress (such as depression and/or anxiety) during pregnancy had an increased abundance of potentially pathogenic gut bacteria such as:

  • Serratia, Haemophilus, Citrobacter, and Campylobacter from the Proteobacteria group of bacteria.
  • Veillonella and Finegoldia from the Firmicutes group of bacteria.

In addition, infants born to mothers with elevated cortisol levels (another measure of stress) had decreased abundance of potentially health promoting gut bacteria such as Lactobacillus.

In contrast:

  • Infants born to mothers who experienced low levels of stress had increased levels of potentially health promoting gut bacteria, such as Akkermansia.
  • Infants born to mothers with low cortisol levels had an increased abundance of Lactobacillus in their gut.

In short:

  • High levels of stress in the mother during pregnancy are associated with an increased abundance of unhealthy bacteria in their baby’s intestine.
  • Low levels of stress in the mother during pregnancy are associated with an increased abundance of healthy bacteria in their baby’s intestine.

The authors concluded:

“The observed fecal bacteria signature in the infants with exposure to chronic maternal stress, such as increased abundance of potentially inflammatory bacteria from the Proteobacteria group of bacteria, warrant future follow-up of these children, since similar alterations of fecal bacteria have previously been associated with adverse health outcomes such as asthma in children.

The results of this study describe only associations, yet corroborate certain interesting findings reported in earlier literature and offer hypotheses for future mechanistic studies.”

How Can You Minimize Stress During Pregnancy?

Simply put, this study shows that chronic stress during pregnancy increases populations of gut bacteria in the newborn that are associated with adverse health outcomes in children. More studies are needed to confirm and understand this observation, but it raises an issue that is often ignored.

Pregnancy can be a stressful time, especially if you are a first-time mom. Plus, we are living in the most stressful time any of us can remember. So, this study is particularly relevant today.

However, let’s put this into perspective. It’s not the stress in our lives that harms us. It is how we respond to the stress. This study did not measure stress, per se. It measured depression, anxiety, and cortisol levels associated with the stress.

Some of the women in this study had very low levels of all three. It wasn’t that they led stress-free lives. They simply coped better with stress. So, the real question isn’t how to minimize stress. It’s how to better cope with stress. Here are some suggestions.

1) Take time to relax. What you do with this time will be different for each of you. Think about what kind of activity relaxes you the most. Here are some suggestions.

    • Meditation or prayer.
    • Yoga or Tai chi.
    • Watching a comedy.
    • Listening to your favorite music.

2) Make time for hobbies. Again, these would be different for each of you. They should be something that you enjoy and engages your mind. Examples include:

    • Reading.
    • Creating your favorite art. It could be painting, pottery, or knitting, for example.
    • Playing your favorite sport such as golf or tennis.
    • Doing puzzles.
    • Playing cards or board games.
    • Watching a movie.

3) Exercise on a regular basis. Exercise produces endorphins that elevate your mood. It’s even better if you are exercising outdoors so you can enjoy nature or listening to your favorite music while you exercise.

4) Relax your muscles. This is particularly important after you have exercised. Examples include:

    • Do some stretching exercises.
    • Take a luxurious hot bath.
    • Set a regular time to go to bed and get a good night’s sleep.
    • Get a massage.

5) Eat a healthy diet. Studies have shown that people who eat lots of junk and processed foods tend to be depressed and anxious. Aim for a whole food diet with lots of fruits and vegetables. That kind of diet is best for your baby as well.

6) Try deep breathing exercises.

7) Ask for support from your family members, especially if they are stressors in your life.

8) Talk with someone. Find a friend or family member who is willing to listen and support you.

In short, take care of yourself. Don’t let stress affect your health and the health of your baby.

The Bottom Line

Pregnancy can be a stressful time, especially if you are a first-time mom. Plus, we are living in the most stressful time any of us can remember. That is why a recent study is particularly relevant.

Simply put, the study showed that chronic stress during pregnancy increases populations of gut bacteria in the newborn that are associated with adverse health outcomes in children. More studies are needed to confirm and understand this observation, but it raises an issue that is often ignored.

However, let’s put it into perspective. It’s not the stress in our lives that harms us. It is how we respond to the stress. This study did not measure stress, per se. It measured depression, anxiety, and cortisol levels associated with the stress.

Some of the women in this study had very low levels of all three. It wasn’t that they led stress-free lives. They simply coped better with stress. So, the real question isn’t how to minimize stress. It’s how to better cope with stress.

For more details and a discussion on how to cope with stress, read the article above.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

Is Stress Causing My Headaches?

“It’s Summertime, and the Living Is…Stressful”

headacheIt’s hot out, the birds are chirping, the air is pretty still, and the rains are often torrential.  It’s summer and under normal circumstances things slow down as people take vacations or just go to sit at the beach or pool.  Normally, we would be singing that old favorite, “It’s summertime and the living is easy”.

But this year is different! This summer’s song could be, “It’s summertime and the living is stressful.

We’ve all been affected by COVID19 in some manner, life is more complicated for most of us, and stress-levels have increased for a lot of people. Since stress often causes headache pain, today’s newsletter is going to focus on relieving stress headaches.

Stress Can Tighten Your Muscles

Constant stress can tie your muscles into knots.   It is important to do things to relieve the stress that the current events are placing on your body.  Maybe you aren’t going to the gym, but you can go out for a long, fast walk.  You could even bring some light hand weights and be pumping your arms as you walk.  If you have access to a pool, swimming is a great way to get exercise without stressing the body – with social distancing, of course.

There are several muscles that cause headaches. Unfortunately, it’s rare that anyone in the medical field will check out muscles while looking for the source of headache pain.

Is Stress Causing My Headaches?

As I said above, chronic stress can cause your muscles to tighten, and tight muscles can cause headaches. I will discuss two of the main offenders today.

Treating Temporalis MuscleOne muscle that causes headaches is called the Temporalis This muscle is the shape of a fan and is at the temples of your skull, behind your eyes and above your ears.  It not only causes headaches. It also causes pain into your top teeth!

To treat your Temporalis muscle, take your three middle fingers and press on the muscle as shown in the picture to the left.

Find the tender point, only pressing enough to feel it, but not so much that you want to faint. Hold the pressure for a minute and then move your fingers slightly up and down, without sliding on your skin.

Release the pressure for about 15 seconds and repeat this sequence until the pain is gone.

Do this treatment on both sides of your skull.  Stay still on any “hot spots” as they are the actual spasm that is causing the problem. You’ll be surprised at how the pain and tenderness will diminish as you continue to do the whole treatment for just a few minutes.

Levator Scapulae MuscleAnother key headache muscle is the Levator Scapulae, a muscle that originates on your cervical vertebrae and inserts into your shoulder blade.  When this muscle is in spasm it will pull your cervical vertebrae to the side and down and press the bone into your spinal cord at the base of your brain.  

Looking at how the levator scapulae muscle attaches to the vertebrae in your neck will explain why it is an important cause of stress headaches.

The levator scapulae originates on the top four cervical vertebrae (see small box) and inserts into the top of your shoulder blade.  When the muscle contracts normally you lift up your shoulders. The nickname for this muscle is “the shrug muscle” because of its action.

However, when it gets tight it will pull the insertions at your neck to the side and down. This causes the bones to press into your spinal cord, right at the base of your brain, and you get a severe headache!

Fortunately, you can treat the levator scapulae muscle, release the tension on the cervical vertebrae, and by treating the muscles in the back of your neck that become involved as the vertebrae move, you can stop the headache. It usually takes a while, maybe even two days. I wish I could tell you it’s immediate, but the important thing is you can stop the pain.

If you have suffered from headaches and your doctor has tested you to be sure it isn’t something more serious, then you’ll be pleased with the results of the Julstro™ self-treatments.

Relief From Stress Headaches Caused By A Tight Levator Scapula Muscle

Let me take you through the treatment step by step.

Relaxing Levator Scapulae MuscleStep 1: Relaxing the Spasms in Your Shoulders 

 You start by relaxing the spasms in your shoulders. While it can be awkward at first, you can very effectively treat your levator scapulae muscle by using a ball and pressing into the corner of a wall.

Put the Julstro Perfect ball directly on the top of your shoulder. Then lean straight into the corner of a wall.

Move slightly until you feel the pressure being focused on the knot at the top of your shoulder.

This treatment is for both your levator scapulae muscle and your trapezius muscle.

Step 2: Treating Your Levator Scapulae Muscle. 

Once you have loosened up the spasms in your shoulders, continue working on the levator scapulae muscle. You can also treat both by squeezing them with your fingers. We’ll demonstrate by treating your right shoulder. Naturally, you can do the same treatment on the opposite shoulder.

Bend your left arm and support you elbow with your right hand. Put your left three middle fingers on your right Treating Levator Scapulae Muscle shoulder at the point where the shoulder and neck meet. It helps if you place it so your thumb and pointer finger are close to your neck with the middle finger being the working finger right on the junction, just a bit toward the back. Your four fingers should be crooked at each joint of the hand and your palm should be flat against your body.

Staying in the same spot, relax your arm with your elbow close to the middle of your chest. In this position you will probably have your middle finger directly on the spasm point. All the strength from this move is coming from your upper arm, not from your fingers. To do that you will simply make sure that your middle finger is on the sore spot and then pull your elbow down toward the floor. Your finger will be like a hook that presses into the spasm.

If you feel your fingers getting tired, you are using your hand to give strength and not your arm. Once you feel the difference, it will be easy to do again. After you have found the trigger point and you are adding pressure to it, continue pressing into the knot.

Treating Levator Scapulae Muscle 2Next, keep your hand in the same spot, still pressing on the knot. Take your thumb, flip over onto the front of your shoulder, and push it straight into the muscle. This will move your thumb to a place that will now cause you to be pinching the knot.

You’ll feel if you have it right. You should have a fairly thick piece of muscle between the middle finger and the thumb. You can inch your three middle fingers back a bit if you find you aren’t gripping the entire thickness of the muscle.

If all you are feeling is skin between your fingertips, go back and try again. When you know you have a thick piece of muscle, grip tightly and release. Do this four times for 15 seconds each time.

 

Step 3: Stretching the Muscles in Your Shoulder

Now that you have worked out the knots, you are ready to stretch your shoulder muscles. Rotate your head a bit Stretching Levator Scapulae Muscleso your ear is angled toward the front of your chest. By doing this you will be adding additional stretch to the trigger point and releasing it at the same time.

Finally, continue holding the muscle and move your head as shown. Hold this for 15 seconds and release the pressure. When you finish, release your grip and shake out your shoulders. Then do it again, three more times, holding each stretch for 15 seconds.

You will really feel a great deal of relief when you ease the tension in this muscle.  This process will become easy after you play with it for a while and get the hang of squeezing the ball of knots that are on the top of your shoulder.

Wishing you well,

Julie Donnelly 

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

Should I Avoid Whole Grains?

Will Whole Grains Kill Me?

Whole GrainsIt seems like just yesterday that health experts all agreed that whole grains were good for us. After all:

  • They are a good source of fiber, B vitamins, vitamin E, and the minerals magnesium, iron, zinc, manganese, and selenium.
  • Their fiber fills you up, so you are less likely to overeat. This helps with weight control.
  • Their fiber also supports the growth of friendly bacteria in your gut.

In fact, the USDA still recommends that half of the grains we eat should be whole grains. And, outside experts, not influenced by the food industry, feel this recommendation is too low. They feel most of the grains we eat should be whole grains. Foods made from refined grains should be considered as only occasional treats.

Then the low-carb craze came along. Diets like Paleo and Keto were telling you to avoid all grains, even whole grains. Even worse, Dr. Strangelove and his colleagues were telling you whole grains contained something called lectins that were bad for you. Suddenly, whole grains went from being heroes to being villains.

You are probably asking, “Should I avoid whole grains?” What is the truth? Perhaps the best way to resolve this debate is to ask, how healthy are people who consume whole grains for many years? This week I share a recent study (G Zong et al, Circulation, 133: 2370-2380, 2016) that answers that very question.

How Was The Study Done?

This study was a meta-analysis of 14 clinical trials that:

  • Enrolled a total of 786,076 participants.
  • Obtained a detailed diet history at baseline.
  • Followed the participants for an average of 15 years (range = 6-28 years).
  • Determined the effect of whole grain consumption on the risk of death from heart disease, cancer, and all causes.

Will Whole Grains Kill Me?

deadDr. Strangelove and his colleagues are claiming that whole grains cause inflammation, which increases your risk of heart disease and cancer. Heart disease and cancer are the leading causes of death in this country. In fact, according to the CDC, heart disease and cancer accounted for 44% of all deaths in the US in 2017.

Therefore, if Dr. Strangelove and his colleagues were correct, consumption of whole grains should increase the risk of deaths due to heart disease and cancer – and increase the risk of death due to all causes.

That is not what this study showed.

When the highest whole grain intake (5 servings/day) was compared with the lowest whole grain intake (0 servings/day), whole grain consumption reduced the risk of death from:

  • Heart disease by 18%.
  • Cancer by 12%.
  • All causes by 16%.

Furthermore, the effect of whole grains on mortality showed an inverse dose response. Simply put, the more thumbs upwhole grains people consumed, the lower the risk of deaths from heart disease, cancer, and all causes.

However, the dose response was not linear. Simply going from 0 servings of whole grains to one serving of whole grains reduced the risk of death from.

  • Heart disease by 9%.
  • Cancer by 5%.
  • All causes by 7%.

The authors concluded: “Whole grain consumption was inversely associated with mortality in a dose-response manner, and the association with cardiovascular mortality was particularly strong and robust. These observations endorse current dietary guidelines that recommend increasing whole grain intake to replace refined grains to facilitate long-term health and to help prevent premature death.”

The authors went on to say: “Low-carbohydrate diets that ignore the health benefits of whole grain foods should be adopted with caution because they have been linked to higher cardiovascular risk and mortality.”

Should I Avoid Whole Grains?

Question MarkAs for the original question, “Should I avoid whole grains?”, the answer appears to be a clear, “No”.

The strengths of this study include the large number of participants (786,076) and the demonstration of a clear dose-response relationship between whole grain intake and reduced mortality.

This study is also consistent with several other studies that show whole grain consumption is associated with a lower risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer – and appears to lead to a longer, healthier life.

In short, it appears that Dr. Strangelove and the low-carb enthusiasts are wrong. Whole grains aren’t something to avoid. They reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. And they reduce the risk of premature death. We should be eating more whole grains, not less.

However, the authors did point out that this study has some weaknesses:

  • It is an association study, which does not prove cause and effect.
  • Study participants who consumed more whole grains also tended to consume more fruits and vegetables – and less red meat, sodas, and highly processed foods.

However, I would argue the second point is a strength, not a weakness. We need to give up the idea that certain foods or food groups are “heroes” or “villains”. We know that primarily plant-based diets like the Mediterranean and DASH diets are incredibly healthy. Does it really matter how much of those health benefits come from whole grains and how much comes from fruits and vegetables?

The Bottom Line

Dr. Strangelove and low-carb enthusiasts have been telling us we should avoid all grains, including whole grains. Is that good advice?

If Dr. Strangelove and his colleagues were correct, consumption of whole grains should increase the risk of deaths due to the top two killer diseases, heart disease and cancer. Furthermore, because heart disease and cancer account for 44% of all deaths in this country, whole grain consumption should also increase the risk of death due to all causes.

A recent study showed the exact opposite. The study showed:

When the highest whole grain intake (5 servings/day) was compared with the lowest whole grain intake (0 servings/day), whole grain consumption reduced the risk of death from:

  • Heart disease by 18%.
  • Cancer by 12%.
  • All causes by 16%.

Furthermore, the effect of whole grains on mortality showed an inverse dose response. Simply put, the more whole grains people consumed, the lower the risk of deaths from heart disease, cancer, and all causes.

However, the dose response was not linear. Simply going from 0 servings of whole grains to one serving of whole grains reduced the risk of death from.

  • Heart disease by 9%.
  • Cancer by 5%.
  • All causes by 7%.

The authors concluded: “Whole grain consumption was inversely associated with mortality in a dose-response manner, and the association with cardiovascular mortality was particularly strong and robust. These observations endorse current dietary guidelines that recommend increasing whole grain intake to replace refined grains to facilitate long-term health and to help prevent premature death.”

The authors went on to say: “Low-carbohydrate diets that ignore the health benefits of whole grain foods should be adopted with caution because they have been linked to higher cardiovascular risk and mortality.”

For more details read the article above.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

Does Fiber Reduce Breast Cancer Risk?

Start Young And Finish Strong

Vegan FoodsThe idea that dietary fiber reduces the risk of breast cancer has been around for a long time. But it is controversial. It has been difficult to prove.

Part of the difficulty arises from what scientists call confounding variables. What do I mean by confounding variables? Let me explain.

A high fiber diet is usually a primarily plant-based diet. Plant foods contain much more than just fiber. They are full of antioxidants and phytonutrients. A primarily plant-based diet is, by definition, low in refined grains. It is usually low in sugar and saturated fat as well.

People who eat primarily plant-based diets are often health conscious. They tend to exercise more, weigh less, and smoke less than the general public.

Each of these things are confounding variables. They could reduce the risk of breast cancer on their own. That confounds (makes it more difficult to interpret) the data. Was the reduction in breast cancer risk due to the high fiber diet or to these factors that go along with a high fiber diet?

It is possible to correct for these confounding variables statistically, but that requires a very large study (a large population group) for the correction to be accurate. Large studies are expensive. Thus, you tend to end up with lots of small studies. And once they have been corrected for confounding variables, small studies give conflicting results. Some show a benefit of fiber. Some do not.

That is why this study (MS Farvid et al, Cancer, DOI: 10.1002/cncr.32816) is important. It is a meta-analysis of 20 clinical studies with almost 2 million women.

How Was The Study Done?

Clinical StudyThe meta-analysis combined data from 20 clinical studies with 1,994,910 women. Fiber intake was calculated from a food frequency questionnaire administered at the beginning of the study for all except one study that used 24-hour dietary records administered at the beginning of the study.

  • Study duration ranged from 2 to 20 years. Nine of the studies (1.37 million women) lasted for 10 years or more.
  • Four studies reported results for premenopausal breast cancer, fifteen studies reported results for postmenopausal breast cancer, and one study reported results for both.

Does Fiber Reduce Breast Cancer Risk?

breast cancerAfter correcting for confounding variables, the results of the study were as follows:

  • When comparing the highest intake with the lowest intake, total fiber consumption was associated with an 8% lower risk of breast cancer.
  • The effect was stronger for premenopausal breast cancer (18%) than for postmenopausal breast cancer (9%).
  • The effect was greater with soluble fiber (10% decreased risk) than for insoluble fiber (7% decreased risk).
    • Note: All plant foods contain a mixture of soluble fiber and insoluble fiber. However, the common foods richest in soluble fiber are fruits, oatmeal, nuts, beans, peas, and lentils.

The authors concluded, “A random-effects meta-analysis of prospective observational studies demonstrated that high total fiber consumption was associated with a reduced risk of breast cancer. This finding was consistent for soluble fiber as well as for women with premenopausal and postmenopausal cancer.”

Start Young And Finish Strong

Mother & Daughter Eating ApplesAn 8% risk reduction doesn’t seem like very much, but the 18% risk reduction in premenopausal breast cancer caught my eye. With a little digging I found a study (MS Farvid et al, Pediatrics 137, March 2016: e20151226) that focused on the effect of fiber intake in young women on their subsequent risk developing both premenopausal and postmenopausal breast cancer. This was, in fact, one of the studies included in the meta-analysis I described above.

This study followed 90,534 women (mean age 36 years) for 20 years. The women competed a food frequency questionnaire at enrollment and every four years thereafter. They also completed a questionnaire about their diet during their teenage years.

When comparing the highest versus the lowest fiber intake:

  • High fiber intake reduced total breast cancer risk by 19%.
    • Postmenopausal breast cancer risk was reduced by 13%.
    • Premenopausal breast cancer risk was reduced by 23%.

Interestingly, only 34% of women who consumed high fiber diets during their teenage years continued to consume high fiber diets as young adults. However, high fiber diets in the teenage years were important. When they looked at teenage diets:

  • High fiber intake reduced total breast cancer risk by 16%.
    • Postmenopausal breast cancer risk was reduced by 15%.
    • Premenopausal breast cancer risk was reduced by 25%.

Other important observations from this study were:

  • There was a 13% decrease in breast cancer risk for every 10 gram increase in fiber intake.
    • 10 grams of fiber is equivalent to one apple plus two slices of 100% whole wheat toast or half a cup of cooked kidney beans plus half a cup of cooked cauliflower or squash.
  • Both soluble fiber (14% decreased risk) and insoluble fiber (20% decreased risk) were effective.
    • In terms of foods, the most significant effects were seen with fruits and vegetables.

The authors concluded, “Our findings support the hypothesis that higher fiber intakes reduce breast cancer risk and suggest that intake during adolescence and early adulthood may be particularly important.”

What Does This Mean For You?

Questioning WomanAs I said before, an 8% decrease in breast cancer risk may not sound like much. You might be tempted to say, “Why bother? Why should I give up my favorite processed and convenience foods and switch to a more whole food, plant-based diet?”

Here are some thoughts to consider:

1) As I mentioned above, there are side benefits to a plant-based diet.

    • Plant based diets have a lower caloric density, so you are less likely to be overweight.
    • Your intake of antioxidants and phytonutrients is increased.
    • Plant foods feed beneficial gut bacteria.
    • Your diet is likely to be lower in sugar, highly processed foods, and saturated fat.

All these factors decrease your risk of developing breast cancer, but they were statistically factored out in calculating the 8% reduction in risk. In other words, the 8% reduction in risk was based on fiber intake only. When you consider all the beneficial effects that accompany a high fiber diet, your actual reduction in risk is likely to be substantially more than 8%.

2) When you consume a high fiber diet, your risk of developing premenopausal breast cancer is decreased by 18%. That is twice the risk reduction seen for postmenopausal breast cancer. This is consistent with several other studies showing the premenopausal breast cancer is more influenced by diet than postmenopausal breast cancer. There are a couple of likely explanations for this.

    • By the time they reach menopause women are more likely to be overweight and some of those fat calls accumulate in breast tissue. Those fat cells continue to produce estrogen after menopause. Even worse, that estrogen is produced right next to the breast cells, where it can do the maximum damage.
    • Mutations accumulate in breast tissue as we age, and some of those mutations increase the risk of breast cancer.

3) When you start consuming a healthy, high fiber diet early in life your risk reduction is much greater (a 13-15% decreased risk of developing postmenopausal breast cancer and a 23-25% decreased risk of developing premenopausal breast cancer). Now, we are talking about numbers that should get your attention!

Plus, these numbers are based on fiber intake only. Once again, when you consider all the other benefits of a high fiber diet, your real risk reduction is likely to be much greater.

In closing I should mention that none of the studies were done with fiber supplements. A fiber supplement may help you be more regular, but there is no evidence that a fiber supplement will reduce your risk of breast cancer.

The Bottom Line

Two recent studies have looked at the effect of fiber intake on the risk of developing breast cancer.

The first study showed that:

  • High fiber diets decreased the overall risk of breast cancer by 8% and the risk of premenopausal breast cancer by 18%.
  • As I describe in the article above, these reductions in risk were based on fiber intake only. If you consider all the side benefits of a high fiber diet, the actual risk reduction is likely to be much greater.

The second study looked at fiber intake during adolescence and early adulthood. It found that when high fiber diets were started early in life:

  • High fiber diets decreased the overall risk of breast cancer by 13-15% and the risk of premenopausal breast cancer by 23-25%.
  • Once again, if you consider all the side benefits of a high fiber diet, the actual risk reduction is likely to be much greater.

The authors of both studies concluded that high fiber diets reduce the risk of developing breast cancer. The risk reduction is greater for premenopausal breast cancer than for postmenopausal breast cancer. Finally, the risk reduction is greatest when high fiber diets are started early in life.

For more details read the article above.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

The Effect Of Vitamin D On Childhood Development

Is Vitamin D Important During Pregnancy?

vitamin dIf you are parents, you want the best for your child. It can be nerve wracking when your child doesn’t meet the expected developmental milestones. When I saw a recent study titled “Association of maternal vitamin D status in pregnancy and neurodevelopmental outcomes in children” ( AL Darling et al, British Journal of Nutrition, 117: 1682-1692, 2017), I knew you would want to hear about it.

But first a bit of background: Based on blood 25-hydroxy vitamin D levels (considered the most accurate marker of vitamin D status):

  • 8-11% of pregnant women in the US are deficient in vitamin D (<30 nmol/L).
  • ~25% of pregnant women have inadequate vitamin D status (30-49 nmol/L).
  • ~65% of pregnant women have adequate vitamin D status (50-125 nmol/L).
  • ~ 1% of pregnant women have high vitamin D levels (>125 nmol/L).

In short, that means around 1/3 of pregnant women in the US have inadequate or deficient levels of vitamin D. The affect of inadequate vitamin D during pregnancy is not just an academic question.

It is a concern because inadequate vitamin D levels during pregnancy has been associated with gestational diabetes (diabetes during pregnancy), low birthweight babies, and a condition called pre-eclampsia (pre-eclampsia is characterized by the development of high blood pressure during pregnancy and can lead to serious, even fatal, complications for mother and baby).

The Cochrane Collaboration (considered the gold standard for evidence-based medicine) has recently reviewed the literature and has reported) that vitamin D during pregnancy “probably reduces the risk of pre-eclampsia, gestational diabetes, and the risk of having a low birthweight baby compared to placebo or no intervention.”

In short, this means the evidence is pretty good that inadequate vitamin D increases the risk of significant complications during pregnancy and that supplementation with vitamin D reduces the risk of those complications.

However, what about the effect of inadequate vitamin D during pregnancy on the development of the newborn child? Here the evidence is less clear. This study was designed to answer that question.

How Was The Study Designed?

clinical studyThis study followed neurodevelopmental milestones of 7065 children born to mothers in the Avon region of southwest England between April 1, 1991 and December 31, 1992. Maternal 25-hydroxy vitamin D levels were measured during pregnancy. The distribution of 25-hydroxy vitamin D levels in this population was very similar to that observed for pregnant mothers in the United States.

The children were followed from 6 months to 9 years of age and the following neurodevelopmental milestones were measured:

  • Gross-motor skills, fine-motor skills, social development, and communication skills were measured at 6, 18, 30, and 42 months.
  • Behavioral development (socialization, hyperactivity, emotional development, and conduct) was measured at 7 years.
  • IQ was measured at 8 years.
  • Reading skill (words/minute, accuracy, and comprehension) was measured at 9 years.

What Is The Effect Of Vitamin D On Childhood Development?

Child raising handThe study compared children of women who had inadequate vitamin D status (<50 nmol/L) during pregnancy to children of women who had adequate vitamin D status (≥50 nmol/L) during pregnancy. Here is what the study found:

The children of mothers with inadequate vitamin D during pregnancy had:

  • Delayed gross-motor skills at 18 and 30 months.
  • Delayed fine-motor skills at 30 and 42 months.
  • Delayed social development at 42 months.

However, when they looked at later years, there was no significant effect of maternal vitamin D status on:

  • Behavioral development at 7 years.
  • IQ at 8 years.
  • Reading skills at 9 years.

This is encouraging because it suggests that the effect of inadequate vitamin D during pregnancy does not have a permanent effect on childhood development. By the time they are 7 or older their nutrition and intellectual stimulation during childhood appears to outweigh the effect of their mother’s nutrition on their development.

In interpreting this information, we need to keep in mind that this study was performed in England, not in a third world country. In particular:

  • England, like the United States, has supplemental food programs for disadvantaged children.
  • England has an excellent educational system. So, we can assume these children also received intellectual stimulation as soon as they reached school age.

Is Vitamin D Important During Pregnancy?

pregnant women taking vitaminIf we focus on a healthy pregnancy, there is good evidence that inadequate vitamin D during pregnancy increases the risk of serious complications and that supplementation with vitamin D can reduce these complications. We also know that vitamin D deficiency during pregnancy can affect bone development in the newborn.

Thus, adequate vitamin D is clearly needed for a healthy pregnancy.

However, if we just consider the effect of maternal vitamin D on childhood development, it would be tempting to downplay the importance of vitamin D during pregnancy. This study focused on vitamin D, but studies focusing on other nutritional deficiencies usually give similar results.

In most of these studies, the effects of inadequate nutrition during pregnancy on childhood developmental milestones appear to be transient. Developmental delays are seen during the first few years of life but disappear as the children get older.

This is incredibly good news. It means that mild nutritional deficiencies during pregnancy do not have to handicap a child for life. If the children are given adequate nutrition and intellectual stimulation as they grow, the poor start they received in life can be erased.

It is also a caution. We already know that poor nutrition during childhood can affect a child’s behavior and intellectual development. If that child also received poor nutrition in the womb, their chances of normal childhood development may be doubly impacted.

In short, if adequate vitamin D during pregnancy improves early developmental milestones in children, that can be viewed as an added benefit.

The only question is how much vitamin D is needed. Fortunately, the present study cast some light on that question.

The study asked whether blood levels of 25-hydroxy vitamin D ≥75 nmol/L were more beneficial than blood levels ≥50 nmol/L. The answer was a clear no. That means an adequate vitamin D status during pregnancy is sufficient to support normal developmental milestones in children.

The current recommendation (DV) of vitamin D3 for pregnant women is 15 mcg (600 IU). Thus, my recommendations are:

  • If you are pregnant, be sure that your prenatal supplement provides at least 600 IU of vitamin D3.
  • If you are a woman of childbearing age, be sure that your multivitamin provides at least 600 IU of vitamin D3.
  • Slightly more is OK but avoid mega doses unless prescribed by a health professional who is monitoring your 25-hydroxy vitamin D status.
  • Because we all utilize vitamin D with different efficiencies, I would recommend asking for a 25-hydroxy vitamin D test and working with your health professional to keep your levels in the adequate range.

The Bottom Line

A recent study looked at the effect of mild vitamin D deficiency during pregnancy on childhood developmental milestones. The study found that children born to vitamin D-deficient mothers had:

  • Delayed gross-motor skills at 18 and 30 months.
  • Delayed fine-motor skills at 30 and 42 months.
  • Delayed social development at 42 months.

This is concerning. However, when they looked at later years, there was no significant effect of maternal vitamin D status on:

  • Behavioral development at 7 years.
  • IQ at 8 years.
  • Reading skills at 9 years.

The is encouraging. The reasons for this are discussed in the article above.

If we summarize this and previous studies, the bottom line is:

  • Adequate vitamin D is clearly needed for a healthy pregnancy.
  • If adequate vitamin D during pregnancy improves early developmental milestones in children, that can be viewed as an added benefit.

For more details and my recommendations on how much vitamin D you need, read the article above.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

Diet And Cancer Risk

What Can You Do To Reduce Your Risk Of Cancer?

Magic WandIt seems like everyone has a magic pill, essential oil, food, or diet that prevents cancer. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that all the claims can’t be true. No wonder you are confused. You want to know:

  • Which of these claims are true?
  • What can you do to reduce your risk of cancer?

These aren’t trivial questions.

  • Cancer is the second leading cause of death in this country, and some experts predict it will surpass heart disease as the leading cause of death in the near future.
  • While cancer treatments have become much more effective in the past few decades, these treatment successes are often associated with severe side-effects, enormous expense, or both.

That is why I was intrigued by a recent study (FF Zhang et al, JNCI Cancer Spectrum (2019) 3(2): pkz034) on diet and cancer that came from the prestigious Friedman School of Nutrition and Public Policy at Tufts University. This study asked two important questions:

  • How many newly diagnosed cancer cases could have been prevented by changes in the American diet? This is something the authors referred to as the “preventable cancer burden associated with poor diet”.
  • Which foods increased or decreased the risk of cancer? This, of course, is the most useful information for you and me.

Diet And Cancer Risk

Diet And CancerThis study estimated that 80,110 new cancer cases among US adults 20 and older could be primarily attributed to poor diet. While poor diet contributes to many more cancers, the authors of this study felt 80,110 represented the number of cancer cases that were clearly preventable by some simple dietary changes.

While all cancers were affected by diet to some degree, the cancers most affected by poor diet were:

  • Colon cancer (65% of cases)
  • Mouth and throat cancer (18% of cases)
  • Endometrial cancer (4.0% of cases)
  • Breast cancer (3.8% of cases)

When the diet was broken down into individual food groups:

  • Low intake of whole grains was associated with the largest number of preventable cancer cases (35% of cases). This was followed by.
  • Low intake of dairy foods (22% of cases).
  • High intake of processed meats (18% of cases).
  • Low intake of vegetables (16% of cases).
  • Low intake of fruits (10% of cases).
  • High intake of red meat (7.1% of cases).
  • High intake of sugar sweetened beverages (4.0% of cases).

Of the diet-associated cancer cases, the scientists who lead the study estimated that 84% of them represented a direct effect of diet on cancer risk. The dietary factors most likely to directly increase the risk of cancer were:

  • Low intake of whole grains.
  • Low intake of dairy foods.
  • High intake of processed meats.

The scientists estimated that 16% of diet-associated cancer cases were “mediated by obesity”. In layman’s terms, this means that diet increased the risk of obesity and obesity increased the risk of cancer. The dietary factors most likely to increase the risk of obesity-mediated cancers were:

  • High intake of sugar sweetened beverages.
  • Low intake of fruits.

The authors concluded: “More than 80,000 new cancer cases [per year] are estimated to be associated with suboptimal diet among US adults…Our findings underscore the need for reducing cancer burden in the United States by improving the intake of key food groups and nutrients of Americans.”

What Does This Mean For You?

Questioning ManThese findings aren’t novel. Many previous studies have come to the same conclusions. However, many people find these recommendations to be confusing. Should they increase their intake of certain foods? Should they follow some sort of magic diet?

Perhaps we need to get away from the magic food concept. We need to understand that every time we increase one food in our diet, we exclude other foods. We need to step back and look at the overall diet.

Let me break down the recommendations from this study into three categories: foods we should eliminate from our diet, foods we should include in our diet, and foods we should balance in our diet.

Foods we should eliminate from our diet:

  • Sugar Sweetened Beverages. They provide no nutritional benefit, and the sugar in most beverages rushes into our bloodstream and overwhelms our body’s ability to utilize it in a healthy way. This leads to obesity, diabetes, and a host of other health issues.
    • Public enemy number one is sodas. However, this category also includes fruit juices, sweetened teas and energy drinks, and sugary processed foods.
    • This category also includes diet sodas. For reasons we don’t completely understand, diet sodas appear to be just as likely to lead to obesity, diabetes, and heart disease as sugar sweetened sodas. I have discussed the proposed explanations of this phenomenon in a recent issue of “Health Tips From the Professor”.
    • Sugar, however, is not the enemy. Sugar found naturally in fruits and other whole foods enters the bloodstream slowly and is metabolized in healthy ways by the body. I have discussed this in another issue  of “Health Tips From the Professor”. This is what I mean by restoring balance in our diet. Decreasing the sugar intake from sugar sweetened beverages and increasing sugar intake from fruits is associated with a decreased risk of obesity and obesity-related cancers.
  • Processed Meats. The evidence is overwhelming at this point that processed meats directly increase the risk of cancer.
    • If you have trouble completely eliminating processed meats from your diet, my advice is to minimize them and consume them only in the context of an overall healthy diet. Personally, I still consume bacon occasionally as flavoring for a healthy green salad.

Whole GrainsFoods we should include in our diet. I put these in a separate category because Dr. Strangelove and his colleagues have been telling us to eliminate them from our diet, and many Americans are following those recommendations:

  • Whole grains. We can think of whole grains as the underserving victim of the low-carb craze. The low-carb craze is on the mark when it comes to eliminating added sugars and refined grains from the diet. However, eliminating whole grains from the diet may be doing more harm than good. In fact, this and other studies suggest that whole grains are the most effective foods for reducing cancer risk. Why is that?
    • If we assume whole grains are just a good source of fiber and a few vitamins and minerals, it is hard to grasp their importance. We could easily get those nutrients elsewhere.
    • However, we are beginning to realize that whole grains play a unique role in supporting certain species of gut bacteria that are very beneficial to our health. In short, whole grains may be essential for a healthy gut.
  • Dairy Foods. This is another food that has been treated as a villain by Dr. Strangelove and his many colleagues. However, for reasons we don’t completely understand, dairy foods appear to decrease the risk of heart disease and cancer.

Foods we should balance in our diet.

  • Red Meat. Diets high in red meat are consistently associated with a slight increase in cancer risk. The World Health Organization lists red meat as a probable carcinogen, but that has proven to be controversial.
    • Much of the research has centered on why red meat causes cancer. Several mechanisms have been proposed, but none of them have been proven.
    • In contrast, very little consideration has been given to what red meat is displacing from the diet. Diets high in red meat are often low in whole grains, fruits and/or vegetables.
    • Perhaps instead of eliminating red meat from our diets we should be talking about balancing red meat in our diets by consuming less red meat and more whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.

What Can You Do To Reduce Cancer Risk?

American Cancer SocietyYou may have been thinking that 80,110 cases/year represents a small percentage of new cancer cases. That’s because diet is only one component of a holistic cancer prevention strategy. Here is what the American Cancer Society recommends for reducing cancer risk:

  • Avoid tobacco.
  • Limit sun exposure.
  • Achieve and maintain a healthy weight.
  • Eat a healthy diet, with an emphasis on plant foods (Their recommendations are in line with this study).
  • Be physically active.
  • Limit alcohol use.
  • Get vaccinated against HPV.
  • Get regular medical checkups.

Doing any of these things will reduce your cancer risk. But the more of these you can incorporate into your lifestyle, the lower your risk.

The Bottom Line

A recent study looked at diet and cancer risk. The authors reported that 80,110 new cancer cases among US adults 20 and older could be primarily attributed to poor diet.

When the diet was broken down into individual food groups:

  • Low intake of whole grains was associated with the largest number of preventable cancer cases. This was followed in descending order by.
  • Low intake of dairy foods.
  • High intake of processed meats.
  • Low intake of vegetables.
  • Low intake of fruits.
  • High intake of red meat.
  • High intake of sugar sweetened beverages.

The authors concluded: “More than 80,000 new cancer cases [per year] are estimated to be associated with suboptimal diet among US adults…Our findings underscore the need for reducing cancer burden in the United States by improving the intake of key food groups and nutrients of Americans.”

For more details, read the article above. For example, I discuss which foods we should eliminate, which foods we should eat more of, and which foods we should balance in our diet. To add a more holistic perspective, I also discuss the American Cancer Society’s recommendations for reducing cancer risk.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

Relief From Pain Between Your Shoulder Blades

Happy St. Patrick’s Day

Even if you’re not Irish, Happy St. Patrick’s Day!  I think it’s one of those days that really isn’t necessarily an ethnic holiday anymore, it’s an “everybody” holiday.

I’m from New York and St. Patty’s Day is a HUGE day, with a big parade (I walked in it when I was in high school) and a LOT of partying!  The first recorded StPatrick’s Day parade was held not in Ireland but in New York City in 1762 because there were so many Irish immigrants.

I wasn’t too thrilled with aspects of the party part, but it’s still fun to wear green and have all the trappings of the day.  My favorites are green cookies and cupcakes (you can tell where my weakness lies – LOL).

Here are 10 fun facts about St. Patrick’s Day, Thanks to https://www.proflowers.com/blog/interesting-st-patricks-day-facts

  1. The first St. Patrick’s Day celebration in the United States was held in Boston (1737).
  1. Shamrocks are the national flower/emblem of Ireland.
  2. Legend says that each leaf of the clover has a meaning: Hope, Faith, Love and Luck.
  3. Your odds of finding a four-leaf clover are about 1 in 10,000 (I don’t know about this one. I must be pretty lucky because when I was a kid, we used to always find them in the grass).
  4. The color of St. Patrick’s Day was originally blue.
  1. There are 34.7 million U.S. residents with Irish ancestry. This number is more than seven times the population of Ireland itself
  1. The real St. Patrick wasn’t Irish. He was born in Britain around A.D. 390 to an aristocratic Christian family
  1. Patrick never got canonized by a pope, making his saintly status somewhat questionable.
  1. The world’s shortest St. Patrick’s Day parade is held in an Irish village. It lasts only 100 yards, between the village’s two pubs.
  1. 1962 marked the first time Chicago dyed their river green for St Patrick’s Day.

Your Questions Answered

I have so many people asking me questions about the cause of their aches and pains that I’ve decided to add a new section to this newsletter – it’s a Q&A section where you can send in a question and I’ll pick one each month to answer.  I’ll explore the most logical cause of the pain and tell you where in my books you can find the self-treatment to eliminate it quickly.

Q:  When I yawn or chew my jaw clicks, close to my ear.  I can feel the bones rubbing together.  I’ve been told it may be TMJ.  What do you think?

A: I agree that it is most likely TMJ.

tmj pain treatment relief

 

If you press your three middle fingers into your cheeks, right where your back teeth meet, and then clench your teeth, you’ll feel the muscle bulge.  The name of the muscle is Masseter and it goes from your cheek bones (above your top back teeth) to your jaw line (below your lower back teeth.

 

 

When you chew, you are contracting that muscle, and you lengthen it as you open your mouth wide to put food into your mouth. Chewing gum or clenching your teeth contracts the muscle without the opposite movement of opening your mouth wide.  As a result, it’s being repetitively strained, and the body reacts by shortening the muscle fibers. This causes your jaw to shift over to the side of the shortened muscle each time you try to open your mouth.

The clicking you are feeling is the bones rubbing across each other because the muscle is too tight to allow your jaw to open correctly.  This can potentially cause real problems in your jaw, but fortunately it’s simple to reverse.

The treatment is shown on page 52-53 in Treat Yourself to Pain Free Living.  Most times you can reverse the problem after just 2-3 self-treatments.

What Causes Pain Between Your Shoulder Blades?

I had to solve a mystery in my office. A client was complaining of a pain between her shoulder blades, and after looking at the usual muscles (Rhomboids) I needed to do some detective work. It’s a little confusing, but if you visualize it while you’re reading it will help a lot.

 

Your rhomboids attach to the medial border of your scapula (between your shoulder blades).  When they contract normally, they pull your shoulder blades in toward your spine.

 

 

 

 

Your pectoralis minor muscle is in your chest, originating on your ribs and inserting into a small part of your shoulder blade (scapula), called the coracoid process.  When the pecs minor contacts normally it pulls on your scapula, moving your shoulder forward and rounding out your back.

 

 

Here’s what was happening to my client.

When your pecs minor is pulling your scapula forward it’s causing your rhomboids to be pulled up toward your head.  This isn’t a movement that works well for the rhomboids, so they go into a spasm, or at the very least they are over-stretched, and you feel the pull on the bone.

Relief From Pain Between Your Shoulder Blades

Simply releasing the tight pectoralis minor muscles allowed her shoulder blade to return to its proper location and the strain was taken off her rhomboids.

 

Looking at the pictures, begin by placing a ball on the front of your chest, just below your shoulder.  Basically, it is where your fingers are when you do the Pledge of Allegiance. Lean into a wall and bend your legs so you move the ball up and down on the muscle.

 

 

 

You can also squeeze the muscle by putting your fingertips into your armpit and your thumb in the same place as the location of the ball as shown in the picture.  Squeeze the muscle and pull down toward the floor as you are squeezing. As a bonus, you’ll be stretching the muscle as your releasing the tension in the muscle fibers.

I’m happy to say, treating my client’s pectoralis minor took the strain off her rhomboids, and her back pain disappeared!

The most important thing is she also learned how to self-treat her muscles, so the pain won’t return.

All my self-treatments are in either Treat Yourself to Pain-Free Living or The Pain-Free Athlete.  If you have nagging aches and pains, you can release the tension and stop pain FAST!

Graphic Credit: Pectoralis Minor muscle graphic thanks to https://www.quora.com/What-is-the-difference-between-a-pectoralis-major-and-a-pectoralis-minor-muscle

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You really CAN “Treat Yourself to Pain-Free Living!”  As you already know, I’ve written a book, “Treat Yourself To Pain-Free Living“, that shows you how to self-treat muscles from your head to your feet, but maybe you would like to have me help you.

Just because you aren’t in Sarasota, Florida, we can still work together very successfully via the computer.  I’ve worked with people all over the world, and the results are excellent! To request a consult, click here.

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Wishing you well,

Julie Donnelly 

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. 

About The Author

Julie Donnelly

 

 

Julie Donnelly is a Deep Muscle Massage Therapist with 31 years of experience specializing in the treatment of chronic joint pain and sports injuries. She has worked extensively with elite athletes and patients who have been unsuccessful at finding relief through the more conventional therapies.

Could A Probiotic Supplement Make You Healthier?

What Is The Truth About Our Microbiome?

Myth BusterOur gut bacteria, often referred to as our microbiome, are a “hot” topic in today’s world. They have been in the news a lot in recent years. If you believe the headlines, the right gut bacteria can make you smarter, healthier, and cure what ails you. They appear to have almost mystical powers. Could a probiotic supplement make you healthier?

How much of this is true and how much is pure speculation? It’s hard to say. Our microbiome is incredibly complex. To make matters more confusing, the terminology used to classify our gut bacteria into groups is not consistent. It varies from study to study.

Perhaps it is time to take an unbiased look at the data and separate fact from speculation.

Could A Probiotic Supplement Make You Healthier?

Probiotic SupplementTo answer the question of whether a probiotic supplement could make you healthier, we need to differentiate between what we know is true and what we think might be true. Let’s start with what we know for certain:

  • Our gut bacteria are affected by diet. People consuming a primarily plant-based diet have different populations of gut bacteria than people consuming a primarily meat-based diet.
    • The populations of gut bacteria found in people consuming a plant-based diet are associated with better health outcomes, but associations have their limitations as discussed below.
  • Our gut bacteria are affected by exercise.
    • It’s not clear whether it is the exercise or the fitness (increased muscle mass, decreased fat mass, improved metabolism) associated with exercise that is responsible for this effect.

Most of the other claims for the effects of gut bacteria on our health are based on associations. However, associations do not prove cause and effect. For example:

  • Certain populations of gut bacteria are associated with obesity.
    • Do our gut bacteria make us obese, or does obesity affect our gut bacteria? There is evidence to support both viewpoints.
  • Certain populations of gut bacteria are associated with better mental health.
    • Do gut bacteria influence mental health, or does the stress associated with poor mental health influence our gut bacteria? Again, there is evidence to support both viewpoints.
  • Certain populations of gut bacteria are associated with better health outcomes (reduction in diseases like heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure).
    • Here the question is a little different. In general, the populations of gut bacteria associated with disease reduction are produced by a healthy diet, exercise, and weight control. In this case, the question becomes: Is it the gut bacteria that caused disease reduction, or is it diet, exercise, and weight control that caused disease reduction?

To better understand these points, let’s look at four recently published studies. After reviewing those studies, I will come back to the question of whether a probiotic supplement might decrease our disease risk.

Is Our Microbiome Better Than Our Genes For Predicting Disease?

Predict DiseaseThis study (T. Tierney et al, bioRxiv, 2020) reviewed 47 studies that analyzed people’s microbiome (their gut bacteria) and their genes and asked which was better at predicting their risk of various diseases. The study focused on 13 diseases that are considered “complex” because they are caused by both genetic and environmental factors such as diet and exercise. Examples include diabetes, high blood pressure, digestive disorders, asthma, Parkinson’s disease, and schizophrenia.

The study found that our microbiome was a better predictor of these diseases than our genes. This finding is not surprising. Our microbiome is heavily influenced by diet and other environmental factors. Our DNA sequence is not.

This study supports previous studies in suggesting that our microbiome is a better predictor of most diseases than our DNA sequence. The exception would be diseases that are clearly caused by gene mutations, such as sickle cell disease.

Does this mean our microbiome is directly influencing these diseases, or is it merely serving as a marker for diet and other environmental factors that are influencing these diseases? Nobody knows.

Does The Mediterranean Diet Support Gut Bacteria Linked To Healthy Aging?

Mediterranean dietThis study ( TS Ghosh et al, Gut, 17 February 2020) divided people aged 65-79 into two groups. One group consumed a Mediterranean diet rich in fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, olive oil, and fish and low in red meat and saturated fat. The other group consumed a typical western diet. After a year on the diets the gut bacteria in the microbiomes of the two groups was analyzed.

The study found that the group consuming the Mediterranean diet had an increase in gut bacteria associated with healthy aging, reduced inflammation, and reduced frailty.

The title of the paper describing this study was “Mediterranean diet intervention alters the gut microbiome in older people, reducing frailty and improving health status”. But is that true?

There is already good evidence that the Mediterranean diet improves health status. Is it the gut bacteria supported by the Mediterranean diet that were responsible for healthy aging, or were other aspects of the Mediterranean diet responsible for healthy aging? Nobody knows.

Are Low Fat Diets Healthy Because Of Their Effect On Our Microbiome?

Heart Healthy DietThis study (Y Wang et al, Gut Microbes, 21 January 2020) put participants on a low fat diet (20% fat and 66% carbohydrates), a moderate fat diet (30% fat and 56% carbohydrate) or a high fat diet (40% fat, 46% carbohydrates). To assure the accuracy of the diets, participants were provided with all foods and beverages they consumed. After 6 months on the three diets, the gut bacteria of each group were analyzed.

Note: Because all food and beverages were provided, none of the diets included sodas, added sugar, refined flour, saturated fats, or highly processed food. In short, the diets were very different than the typical low fat or low carb diets consumed by the average American.

This study found that participants consuming the high fat, low carb diet had gut bacteria associated with increased risk of heart disease and diabetes. In contrast, the low fat, high carbohydrate diet group had gut bacteria associated with decreased risk of heart disease and diabetes.

To understand this study, you need to reevaluate what you may have learned from Dr. Strangelove’s health blog. It is true that low fat diets in which fat has been replaced with sugar, refined flour, and highly processed low-fat foods are unhealthy. But that’s not what happened in this study.

Remember that all the food and drink the participants consumed was selected by dietitians.

When you replace the fat with whole foods – fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and legumes, as was done in this study, you end up with a very healthy diet.

The authors talked about the importance of the “diet-gut axis” for reducing the risk of heart disease and diabetes. However, is it the gut bacteria that influenced the risk of heart disease and diabetes, or is it the diets themselves that influenced disease risk? Nobody knows.

Can Gut Bacteria Reduce Heart Disease Risk?

MicrobiomeThis study (Y Heianza et al, Journal of The American College Of Cardiology, 75: 763-772, 2019) focused on the interactions between diet, gut bacteria, and a metabolite called TMAO (trimethylamine N-oxide).

Here is what we know for certain:

  • L-carnitine (found in high levels in red meat) can be converted to TMA (trimethylamine) by gut bacteria and then to TMAO in the liver.
  • The gut bacteria of meat eaters are very efficient at converting L-carnitine to TMA. Thus, meat eaters tend to have high levels of TMAO in their blood.
  • The gut bacteria of vegans and vegetarians are very inefficient at converting L-carnitine to TMA. Thus, people consuming a primarily plant-based diet tend to have low TMAO levels in their blood.

Here is what we are uncertain about:

  • High TMAO levels are associated with increased heart disease risk. However, there is no direct evidence that TMAO causes heart disease.

What made this study unique is that it measured TMAO levels in the study participants at their entrance into the study and again 10 years later. The study found:

  • Participants with the greatest increase in TMAO levels over the 10 years had a 67% increased risk of heart disease compared to participants whose TMAO levels remained constant.
  • Participants consuming a healthy, primarily plant-based diet had little or no increase in TMAO levels over 10 years. It was the participants consuming an unhealthy diet who had significant increases in their TMAO levels.

This study strengthens the association between TMAO levels and heart disease risk. Because gut bacteria are required to produce TMAO, it also strengthens the association between gut bacteria and heart disease risk. However, is it the high TMAO levels that increased heart disease risk or is it the unhealthy diet that increased heart disease risk? Nobody knows.

What Is The Truth About Our Microbiome?

MicrobiomeBy now you have probably noticed a common theme that runs through all four studies. This is also true of most published studies on our microbiome.

  • We have good evidence that whole food, primarily plant-based diets lead to improved long-term health outcomes.
  • We also have good evidence that whole food, primarily plant-based diets influence the populations of gut bacteria found in our microbiome.
  • We know the populations of gut bacteria supported by primarily plant-based diets are associated with improved health outcomes.
  • We don’t really know whether it is the gut bacteria or the diets that are responsible for the improved health outcomes.

Don’t misunderstand me. I am not a microbiome skeptic. I think we have enough evidence to say that our gut bacteria are likely to have an important effect on our health. However, to claim that gut bacteria play a primary role in influencing our health would be pure speculation at this point.

A Cautionary Tale

HDL CHolesterolWhy do I make this point? It’s because I suspect that some in the supplement industry will be tempted to make probiotic supplements and claim they contain bacteria “known” to reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes, or cancer. You wouldn’t need to change your diet. All you would need to do to improve your health would be to take their probiotic supplement.

Lest you be taken in by such future claims, let me share a cautionary tale.

High HDL cholesterol levels are associated with a reduced risk of heart disease. Exercise and weight loss increase HDL levels. However, those require work. They aren’t easy. So, pharmaceutical companies were constantly looking for ways to raise HDL levels without the hard work.

A few years ago, a pharmaceutical company discovered a drug that increased HDL levels. They thought they had discovered a wonder drug that would bring in billions of dollars. People wouldn’t need to exercise. They wouldn’t need to lose weight. All they would need to do would be to take their drug. HDL levels would go up and heart disease risk would go down.

However, when they tested their drug in a major clinical trial, it didn’t move the needle. HDL levels went up, but heart disease risk stayed the same. It turns out it was the exercise and weight loss that decreased heart disease risk, not the increase in HDL levels.

My message is simple. Even if our gut bacteria are found to play a major role in mediating the effect of diet on health outcomes, don’t assume we can take a probiotic and forget about the role of diet and exercise. Good health starts with a whole food, primarily plant-based diet and a healthy lifestyle.

The Bottom Line

Our gut bacteria, often referred to as our microbiome, are “hot”. If you believe the headlines, the right gut bacteria can make you smarter, healthier, and cure what ails you. How much of this is true and how much is pure speculation? In this article I reviewed four recent studies on diet, gut bacteria, and health outcomes. I took an unbiased look at the data and separated fact from speculation.

There was a common theme that ran through all four studies. This is also true of most published studies on our microbiome.

  • We have good evidence that whole food, primarily plant-based diets lead to improved long-term health outcomes.
  • We also have good evidence that whole food, primarily plant-based diets influence the populations of bacteria found in our gut, also known as our microbiome.
  • We know the populations of gut bacteria supported by primarily plant-based diets are associated with improved health outcomes.
  • We don’t really know whether it is the gut bacteria or the diets that are responsible for the improved health outcomes.

Don’t misunderstand me. I am not a microbiome skeptic. I think we have enough evidence to say that our gut bacteria are likely to have an important effect on our health. However, to claim that gut bacteria play a primary role in influencing our health would be pure speculation at this point.

Why do I make this point? It’s because I suspect that some in the supplement industry will be tempted to make probiotic supplements and claim they contain bacteria “known” to reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes, or cancer. You wouldn’t need to change your diet. All you would need to do to improve your health would be to take their probiotic supplement.

My message is simple. Even if our gut bacteria are found to play a major role in mediating the effect of diet on our health outcomes, don’t assume we can take a probiotic and forget about the role of diet and exercise. Good health starts with a whole food, primarily plant-based diet and a healthy lifestyle.

For more details, read the article above. You may be particularly interested in the cautionary tale I shared about HDL and heart disease risk.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease

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