Make Your Gut A Priority

By Marlene Merritt, DOM, LAc, ACN

We think it’s so easy — just take that probiotic to make up for whatever damage might have happened from the prescription antibiotic your doctor gave you, and you’ll be fine, right? And that antibiotic — you hear about antibiotic resistance, but you take it correctly, and you really needed it for that sinus infection, so it’s not that big of a deal either, right? You’re wrong in ways that you can’t possibly imagine and that should make you very, very nervous.


This resistance has occurred for a couple of reasons: one is, the CDC says that 50 percent of the prescriptions written for antibiotics are unnecessary or inappropriate (for example, when a broad-spectrum antibiotic is given when a culture isn’t taken to determine a more targeted drug), and two, because 80 percent of available antibiotics are actually given to animals in confined feed lots (which might make you decide to buy grass-fed, or at least, antibiotic-free meat). Roundup® glyphosphate, found in conventionally raised farming, has been shown to have an inhibitory effect on food microorganisms and suppress beneficial bacteria in the gut.

healthy gut You probably have no idea how ineffective antibiotics are for the things they’re prescribed for most often. They’re not effective for bronchitis, sinus infections or ear infections. They are incorrectly prescribed in 80 percent of strep infections. And, of course, they are often given for the common cold or the flu, despite the fact that those are both viral, because either the patient demands a prescription, or because the doctor wants to prophylactically prevent a secondary bacterial infection. Think about all the times in your life you’ve taken an antibiotic — it’s most often for respiratory conditions and yet are the least effective. The person who says, one or two months after his sinus infection, that he’s gotten another one, probably has the same infection that wasn’t properly handled or was resistant to medication. When people feel better taking an antibiotic, it’s often just because of a reduction in the pathogenic bacteria, not because it’s actually killing them off, and it’s been shown time and time again that taking an antibiotic only reduces your illness time by a day or two. “But that’s a lot!” you cry. However, if you knew, though, that taking that antibiotic might PERMANENTLY damage your gut flora, or cause other bacteria to become resistant, you might pause, or possibly decline taking that medicine. And it’s now been found that bacteria “talk” to each other, and convey resistance to medications. Yes, that means bacteria are passing on antibiotic resistance to other bacteria.

The biggest problem is, our gut flora can’t take this abuse. Let’s start with some basics that will explain why this is potentially such a problem. You inherit your gut flora from your mother in a vaginal birth and continue to populate your gut with different strains from the air, food, soil, etc. until the age of two, when it’s “set.” Going back to your mother, how healthy was her gut flora? How many antibiotics did she take in her lifetime? How about your grandmother? We’ve had antibiotics for 80 years now and while there’s no doubt that they’ve saved a lot of lives, there’s no doubt they are less and less effective, and the collective damage to gut flora is irreparable. Add in the high Caesarean section rate, and you can begin to get an idea that our gut flora is currently the weakest in human history. Studies are showing that babies born of C-sections have higher rates of Celiac disease, autoimmune disorders like Type 1 diabetes, and obesity.

Our gut flora outnumbers our body cells by 10-to-1. Yes, we’re only 10 percent human. The Human Microbiome Project is attempting to distinguish all the different actions and functions of the gut flora, but to give you some idea on this:

  • It is estimated that 70-90 percent of your immune system resides in your gut. Autoimmune diseases have been directly linked to imbalances in gut flora, and Celiac disease has been directly linked to dysbiosis. We had, a patient in her 60s who got debilitating Celiac disease after a single round of antibiotics, and another who improved his ulcerative colitis 80 percent by not washing the vegetables from his garden.
  • Gut bacteria are responsible for B vitamins, vitamin K, and the production of amino acids and fatty acids.
  • It is now being thought that gut microbes, along with some of the inflammatory foods we’re eating, like junk food and bad fats, make endotoxins, which are one of the root causes of inflammation. Rats with no gut microbes can eat any amount of “bad” foods and not gain weight or have inflammation, but when given gut flora, immediately develop high levels of endotoxins, and the resulting inflammation. And those endotoxins? Huge contributors to leaky gut syndrome.
  • Your gut has the same number of neurons as your spinal cord, and about 95% of your body’s serotonin is produced in the gut, as well as many other neurotransmitters. It almost seems odd, then, to have prescriptions for SSRI medications and never actually deal with what might be happening in the gut.
  • Your gut flora individuality is like a fingerprint, in that it’s different for everyone. That being said, diversity is the key to health, in regards to microbes, and if you don’t have diversity, or you don’t have the right type of bacteria, it leaves you open to a host of diseases, including obesity. It’s this diversity of your gut, not just the number of bacteria, which seems to be key to staying healthy. First world children have less diversity than third world children, with corresponding levels of asthma and allergies, and even though rural third-world countries have greater exposure to infectious diseases and lower life expectancies, they also have much lower rates of overall degenerative and chronic diseases.


The use of antibiotics is what’s frightening — they don’t just deplete gut bacteria, but can actually permanently wipe out whole strains. Scientists are now going into remote areas of the Amazon and collecting gut bacteria from tribes that have never been exposed to Westerners, antibiotics or modern foods, and are finding that a pristine microbiome not only has huge diversity, including species never before sequenced.

Of course, how we have tended to look at bacteria is a “good” versus “bad” scenario, but it is much more complicated than that. First, everyone has pathogenic bacteria in their gut, but they are often kept under control by adequate amounts of beneficial bacteria. Take an antibiotic, however, wiping down or out our good guys, and the bad guys can flourish, leading to deadly Clostridium difficile infections, for example. Or take Helicobacter pylori, which we’ve been trying to exterminate since 1983, when it was linked to peptic ulcers. But it’s also been shown that H.pylori regulates acid in the stomach — when people eliminate their H.pylori, they have less peptic ulcers, but higher rates of acid reflux, Barrett’s esophagus, and esophageal cancer, rates of which have soared since we’ve been eliminating H.pylori. It also calms the immune system (populations with higher H.pylori have lower rates of allergy and asthma), and regulates ghrelin and correspondingly, metabolism — obesity related to low H.pylori levels is currently being investigated.

What happens if you wipe out your home team so badly it can’t recover? The symptoms can range from chronic, debilitating diarrhea, to malnutrition, anemia, systemic infections, and death. When faced with a pathogenic infection as a result of taking antibiotics, most doctors employ the very method that got the patient in trouble in the first place — antibiotics — but what is becoming a quickly developing (and more effective) treatment are fecal transplants. A fecal transplant takes the gut bacteria from a healthy person and introduces it to the sick person, often with shockingly dramatic improvements. In a study done with patients who had a C. difficile infection and never properly recovered (most had over 150 days of incapacitating diarrhea), a fecal transplant reversed their symptoms in 24 hours, on average, with a total cure rate of over 90 percent. In fact, they halted the study because it became unethical to withhold such a successful treatment to the control group.

The problem is, you can’t actually replace what you’ve lost. We’re under the mistaken impression that you can simply take an antibiotic, and then follow with a probiotic and your gut will be completely back to normal, but that’s not what being seen in research. Even fecal transplants, with their dramatic impacts, simply buy time for the home team to recover. Probiotics, as well, help to keep the “bad guys” in check, but don’t replace lost strains. If my system got “flushed out” with some food-poisoning diarrhea, for example, I might use a probiotic pill to help my gut out while it repopulates, but when someone has to rely on probiotic pills for their digestion to be “normal,” that’s an indication that there’s some dysbiosis/dysfunction in their gut. Taking higher and higher amounts of probiotics isn’t great either — buying one with insane amounts of Colony Forming Units (CFU’s) can cause dysbiosis as well. And, of course, there’s no probiotic that is specific for your individual microorganism makeup.

Prebiotics, like the oligosaccharides found in vegetables and whole grains, as well as in breast milk (to encourage gut flora growth in a baby) are like food and housing for your home team — they encourage your native flora to grow. Focusing on good prebiotics, as well as severely reducing foods like sugar and bad fats (which cause that inflammatory reaction with the gut flora and can encourage dysbiosis) would be a better plan of action. “What if I take my home team and cultivate them in a Petri dish for sometime in the future?” I sometimes get asked. That doesn’t work either — when implanted back into the gut, your original “home team” bacteria don’t survive long enough to reinoculate.

This is where the impact starts to hit people — when we begin to realize that we’re destroying the biggest and most complicated “organ” we have from sheer lack of understanding. In labeling bacteria “good” and “bad”, we’ve sanitized our houses, our skin, our bodies, and our kids, and the result is a confused and weakened immune system, obesity, neurological dysfunction, chronic diseases, and more modern, deadly diseases.

It was after all this research that I began to see that I would literally have to be dying to take another antibiotic. It makes more sense to keep my immune system strong, and use herbs and nutrition to fight infections if necessary, while in the meantime to regularly eat the traditional foods that gave us a little probiotic help — fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, lacto-fermented vegetables, etc. It’s not just the specter of antibiotic resistance that should scare people silly, it’s also the depletion of their own gut flora and the resulting physiological damage for following generations that might make you, or your now-educated patients, choose differently the next time they’re in the doctor’s office.

Marlene Merritt, DOM, LAc, is a licensed acupuncturist and runs a wellness center in Austin, Texas. She specializes in Oriental medicine and nutritional protocols.

Help Preserve Your Eyesight With B Vitamins

By James P. Meschino, DC, MS


A study published in the July 2013 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition adds to the evidence suggesting certain B vitamins may be important in the prevention of age-related macular degeneration (AMD), which is the leading cause of vision loss in people over 55 years of age in the U.S. and Canada. Previous studies have shown that taking certain antioxidant vitamins and minerals as supplements (vitamin E, vitamin C, beta-carotene, selenium and zinc), at specific dosages, can slow the progression of AMD.



What the Latest Study Says

In the latest study, known as the Blue Mountain Eye Study, serum folate (B-vitamin folic acid), vitamin B12 and homocysteine status were determined from blood samples drawn in 1997-1999 from cohort members ages 55 and older. AMD was assessed in 1,760 survivors from retinal photographs taken in 2002-2004 and 2007-2009. Total intakes of folic acid and vitamin B12 were assessed using a food-frequency questionnaire.


Results showed that higher blood levels of homocysteine were associated with a significant increased risk of developing AMD, whereas higher levels of vitamin B12 were strongly associated with decreased risk of developing AMD. Homocysteine is a toxic end-product of metabolism known to damage blood vessels and increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. Studies continue to show that high blood levels of homocysteine also contribute to damage seen in AMD.


People with folate or vitamin B12 deficiency at the beginning of the study (baseline) were approximately twice as likely to develop AMD during the 10-year study period.


eyesight What is important is that homocysteine levels are reduced via supplementation with, and dietary intake of, vitamin B12 and folic acid. These B vitamins recycle homocysteine back to the nontoxic and highly useful amino acid known as methionine. This explains why high levels of serum homocysteine, and low levels of vitamin B12 and folic acid, are so strongly linked to the development of AMD, as confirmed in the Blue Mountain Eye Study.


How You Can Prevent AMD


It is thought that AMD is a highly preventable disease, thus requiring attention to various lifestyle behaviors. Extrapolating from what we know from experimental, observational and clinical studies, the following practices appear to be the best proactive strategies to prevent the development of AMD:


  • Don’t smoke
  • Protect your eyes from UV light
  • Prevent the onset of type 2 diabetes by maintaining your ideal weight, performing endurance and strength-training exercises regularly, and keeping your blood sugar levels within an ideal range (talk to your doctor to for more info)
  • Eat a diet rich in brightly colored vegetables and fruit (dark green, yellow, orange, blue, purple, red).
  • Keep your cholesterol level low by also consuming foods low in total cholesterol, saturated fat and trans fats.
  • Take a high-potency multivitamin/mineral each day that contains the following dosages of antioxidants and B vitamins:
    • Vitamin C: 1,000 mg
    • Vitamin E: 400 IU
    • Selenium: 200 mcg
    • Zinc: 15 mg
    • Beta-carotene: 15,000 IU
    • Lutein powder: 6 mg
    • B-50 complex, including 400 mcg folic acid, 50 mcg vitamin B12 and 50 mg vitamin B6 (which also lowers homocysteine)


If you’re already suffering from advanced macular degeneration, higher dosages of certain vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients are required to slow the progression of the disease. These therapeutic dosages are available by taking my online nutrition / lifestyle / anti-aging assessment at Talk to your doctor for additional information and before taking any vitamin or supplement for the first time, particularly if you are taking medication, other supplements and/or have a pre-exiting health condition.


James Meschino, DC, MS, practices in Toronto, Ontario, Canada and is the author of four nutrition books, including The Meschino Optimal Living Program and Break the Weight Loss Barrier.

‘Movember’ – 5 Facts About Prostate Cancer



In an honor of “Movember” – the movement during the month of November that brings awareness to prostate cancer and men’s health, we would like to point out five facts about prostate cancer that can inform you and also help to save your life.

There are many interesting facts about prostate cancer you might not be aware of, first off it is the most common cancer in men and the second most common cause of death from cancer among white, African American, American Indian/Alaska Native, and Hispanic men, according to the Centers for Disease Control. There are also these alarming and informative facts you should take note of:

  • Prostate cancer is the fourth most common cause of death from cancer among Asian/Pacific Islander men. It is more common in African-American men compared to white men and less common in American Indian/Alaska Native, Asian/Pacific Islander, and Hispanic men compared to white men.
  • According to the Centers for Disease Control, in 2010 approximately 196,038 men in the United States were diagnosed with prostate cancer and 28,560 men in the United States died from prostate cancer.


The good news is you can take a proactive approach when it comes to your health by knowing these facts:

  • Eating soy products, like tofu and soy beans, vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage. And, fish, like salmon, albacore tuna, and sardines as well as walnuts and flaxseed, and their oils can help you prevent prostate cancer.
  • Being active is also known to decrease your chances of getting prostate cancer. Exercises like jogging, running and cardiovascular exercises can help boost your immune system and make you stronger overall in addition to preventing cancer.
  • Seeing your doctor for prevention is important. More men are encouraged to see their doctors more often to help prevent prostate cancer. Like many other cancers, the earlier you catch it the better outcomes and survival rate you will have.

Commuting Your Health Away

Unless you’re a work-at-home member of the labor force (which has its own health risks, by the way), most of us commute from home to work and back again at least five days a week. From a health perspective, research suggests commuting is bad news, and it goes beyond the stress associated with those bumper-to-bumper, road-rage meltdowns you find yourself experiencing … but somehow think you can handle day after day, week after week, year after year.

According to several recent studies, commuting – particularly longer times spent commuting – has a negative impact on weight, blood pressure, sleep quality / amount and heart disease. One study suggested the longer the commute, the higher the commuter’s body-mass index, waist circumference, diastolic and systolic blood pressure, and metabolic risk factors. Another study found that high blood pressure, stress and heart disease were more likely in people who commuted more than 30 miles a day. And in a third study, researchers concluded: “Commuting long distances negatively impacts one’s ability to capture adequate sleep.”

The Telecommuting Age isn’t necessarily solving the commuting health crisis, either; after all, even as more people work from home, the population at large continues to do more driving and less transportation by other means (bikes, foot, etc.). More time in cars, less time exercising – another recipe for health disaster.

commute The solution, if there is one, is to find ways to make your commutes as short, stress-free and infrequent as possible. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Map it out: If there are multiple routes to your job, try some trial and error to determine which one gets you to and from work in the shortest – and least painful – amount of time.
  • Try 40 in 4: If your employer / state allows, ask about a possible four-day, 10-hour-a-day workweek option. You’ll find that the 10 hours aren’t a major drain, and you’ll appreciate the extra day away from work – and out of the traffic jams.
  • Carpool: Yes, you’re still spending time in a car, but at least you aren’t always the one driving (and dealing with other drivers); and you’re also not alone with your traffic frustrations, all of which contribute to stress.
  • Schedule it & stick to it: A likely explanation for why longer commutes lead to higher weight, etc., is not only that commuters sit in a car too long, but also that by the time they get home, they have little time – or perhaps interest – in exercising. Schedule in exercise before or after work and stick to the routine. It will help counter some of the effects of your commute, including stress.

For many people, commuting is a reality, and depending on the job opportunity and living situation, they can’t change the distance to and from work. But that doesn’t mean you’re destined to a life in the slow lane and its debilitating health effects. Talk to your doctor for more information.


Is Copper in Your Multivitamin Increasing Your Risk of Dementia


By David Seaman, DC, MS, DABCN


For the past year or more, I have been asked about whether it is safe to take multivitamins with copper because of a fear that is apparently spreading. The fear is that 1-2 mg of copper in multivitamins supposedly causes dementia and/or Alzheimer’s disease.


The rumor appears to be based on statements made in two recently published commentaries by Brewer, who says to “check your multi-vitamin mineral pill (or any other supplement pills) and see if it contains copper. If it does, throw it out.” Most multivitamin / mineral supplements contain 1-2 mg of copper.


If Brewer is correct, then how could people with mild Alzheimer’s disease take 8 mg of copper daily for 12 months and not have greater Alzheimer’s progression than placebo? And moreover, if it were so obvious that 1-2 mg of supplemental copper caused dementia / Alzheimer’s, why would researchers give 8 mg per day for 12 months straight?


The reason for supplementing Alzheimer’s patients with copper is because researchers identified that copper deficiency might be a cause of Alzheimer’s, so they compared 8 mg of supplemental copper per day with placebo. The outcome was that the rate of progression was identical between groups. Surely if a 1-2 mg of copper in a multivitamin / mineral causes Alzheimer’s in people without Alzheimer’s, then 8 mg would make it worse in those already compromised. Additionally, there were no toxic side effects identified in the group supplemented with 8 mg of copper.


The fact that 8 mg per day of supplemental did not increase Alzheimer’s expression is not surprising, as the upper tolerable limit for copper ingestion is set at 10 mg per day. In fact, “copper toxicity is rather rare in humans and animals, because mammals have evolved precise homeostatic control of copper due to the high reactivity of the free metal.” Free copper in cells and in circulation always exists in low concentrations and is primarily bound to proteins. However, a chronic excess of free copper, like iron, leads to the overproduction of free radicals.


multivitamin Alzheimer’s and Type 2 Diabetes


With the above in mind, studies have identified that circulating free copper is elevated patients with Alzheimer’s disease. Interestingly, copper is also elevated in patients with type 2 diabetes. Are we to leap to the conclusion that copper causes Alzheimer’s and type 2 diabetes? No; that is also the wrong conclusion.


However, if one were to leap to that conclusion, you can see why one might conclude that the “copper sky is falling” and we should all stop taking multivitamins lest we rapidly succumb to dementia. This would be akin to avoiding water consumption because in excess, as in drowning, water can kill you – clearly an absurd assumption. Instead of blaming copper, we should investigate why copper can be elevated in patients with Alzheimer’s and diabetes.


Inflammation and Copper: The Connection


It should be understood that both Alzheimer’s and type 2 diabetes are caused by chronic inflammation. It appears that circulating copper levels increase in a fashion commensurate with a patient’s degree of chronic inflammation. By 1991, researchers knew serum copper levels were elevated in patients with diabetic complications, lymphocytic leukemia, inflammation, atherosclerosis, and hypertension in the absence of diabetes. So, elevated copper levels in Alzheimer’s patients should not be a surprise.


Even earlier, in 1985, researchers identified that “serum copper and/or ceruloplasmin act as acute-phase reactants in vascular disease, inflammation, and malignancy.” In other words, copper normally elevates in these conditions, independent of copper intake.


Additional acute-phase reactants include ferritin, hsCRP and serum amyloid A. They all normally rise during acute inflammatory events, such as in an infection, and then fall just as rapidly back to normal. When they stay elevated, it is because a chronic inflammatory state exists. Type 2 diabetes is an example of such a state. Similarly, as glycemic control worsens, serum copper levels can rise accordingly.

The Take-Home Message


We know chronic excess of serum copper and iron can generate free radicals. So, the goal should be to avoid chronic inflammation, which is caused by the regular consumption of refined carbohydrates, omega-6 fatty acids and trans fats. Interestingly, higher levels of copper consumption may be linked to cognitive decline in subjects eating a pro-inflammatory diet, but not in those with an anti-inflammatory diet. So, it is not an issue of dietary or supplemental “copper”; it is about the patient’s inflammatory state.


Thus, according to the available evidence, if we avoid pro-inflammatory foods and maintain proper glycemic control, 1-2 mg of copper in a multivitamin / mineral will have absolutely no effect on cognitive function. Fears about this relationship are unfounded and should be abandoned.

David Seaman, MS, DC, DACBN, is the author of Clinical Nutrition for Pain, Inflammation and Tissue Healing. He has a master’s degree in nutrition from the University of Bridgeport, Conn., and lectures on nutrition for Anabolic Labs (

When Food Makes You Sick

Listeria. Salmonella. Outbreak. You might recognize these three words from recent headlines. They are indicators of a growing number of food-borne illnesses that have been plaguing hundreds of people around the country.

Bacteria in food is very common, but outbreaks seem to take the spotlight for the large number of people they make sick. We cannot always control what bacteria lies in our food, but we can take preventative measures to ensure we don’t fall prey to food-borne illnesses in the future. Here are five ways you can protect your health:

  • Wash your fresh fruits and vegetables – Many packages of fruits and vegetables often note they are sold “pre-washed” or “triple-washed” but one can never be too sure. When you purchase fresh fruits and vegetables, make sure to wash them thoroughly and invest in a vegetable washing soak if possible. This can ensure that if you cook or make a salad with vegetables and fruits, it is free of toxins and possible lingering bacteria.
  • Watch your uncooked poultry and handle carefully – When you buy poultry, you need make sure you are handling it out of the packaging in a sanitary space; that means cleaning off counters and using a cutting board if possible. Also, make sure to wash your hands before handling poultry. Once you are ready to prepare it, make sure it does not come into contact with other foods you may have laying around and always make sure to wipe off and clean the space the poultry was at very thoroughly.
  • food preparation Check dates – With fresh meats and vegetables, always make sure to check dates of expiration in case the food you buy might have had too long of a shelf life and acquired unnecessary bacteria.
  • Clean your cooking utensils – When cooking fresh meats or vegetables, make sure to use only clean utensils. This will ensure you are not picking up bacteria from other surfaces.
  • Do not leave food out for too long – Make sure to cook your open packages of food right away. Poultry and seafood should not be left out for too long.


Make sure you are aware of recent outbreaks and take extra precaution with your food purchases. It could save your life.


Recent headlines: “Boston Salads And Prepared Foods Issues Voluntarily Recall Over Listeria Concerns,” “Chicken Sprouts Salmonella Outbreak.”