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Feb 25, 2012

Leaky Gut May Increase Risk of Some Cancers

If you have visited your naturopathic doctor lately, you may have been told by him or her that a healthy body first begins with a healthy gut.  Optimization of digestive function is an essential component of achieving health and longevity, and naturopathic doctors know that almost any, if not all, medical conditions can be dramatically improved by correcting problems going on inside the digestive tract.  

One of the most important aspects of a having a properly working digestive system involves a strong intestinal barrier.  In the cause of leaky gut syndrome, otherwise known as intestinal permeability, unwanted items like bacteria and their toxins, and incompletely digested proteins and fats, can “leak” through the intestinal wall into the bloodstream.  Many types of conditions are associated with leaky gut, including inflammatory bowel disease, asthma, food allergies, and autoimmune diseases.   

Interestingly, a new study published in PLoS ONE revealed that leaky gut may be at the root of certain cancers.  Researchers at Thomas Jefferson University have been studying the effect of a hormone receptor guanylyl cyclase C, also called GC-C, on strengthening the body’s intestinal barrier.  GC-C has previously been identified as a tumor suppressor present in the intestinal tract.  When the receptor is absent, the intestinal barrier has been found to weaken.    

Scott Waldman, M.D., Ph.D., and other researchers at Jefferson discovered that turning off the GC-C receptor in mice led to a compromise in the intestinal barrier while stimulating the receptor improved it.  Pathological changes associated with a compromised intestinal barrier included inflammation, damaged DNA, and the formation of cancer outside the intestine in such places as the liver, lungs, and lymph nodes.  

The team of researchers expresses how strengthening the intestinal barrier could potentially serve as protection from inflammation and cancer developing in the rest of the body.  "If the intestinal barrier breaks down, it becomes a portal for stuff in the outside world to leak into the inside world," said Dr. Waldman. "When these worlds collide, it can cause many diseases, like inflammation and cancer."  

While the results of this study and others like it are laying the groundwork for the development of a new drug intended to be used in the prevention and treatment of inflammatory bowel disease and cancer, the bottom line here seems to be that healing the intestinal barrier is an important step to take in optimizing health.  

A drug that activates GC-C may be one method of strengthening the intestinal barrier, however, natural medicine offers a comprehensive combination of diet, nutritional, and lifestyle therapies that can naturally prevent and treat “leaky gut” while also being affordable, non-invasive, and without any potentially harmful side effects.  Doesn’t it make more sense to correct the true underlying causes of leaky gut (i.e. poor diet, chronic NSAID use, overuse of antibiotics, food allergies and intolerance, etc) than to hope that a new drug will serve as the magic bullet?

Dr. Shana McQueen


Feb 21, 2012

Plant Medicines Effective Against Resistant Bacteria: More Evidence

Across the world, concerns over antibiotic-resistant infections continue to rise.  Antibiotic drugs have undoubtedly proven to be life-saving for many people with severe infections, but with years of continued overuse and misuse, these same antibiotics have been rapidly losing their ability to work.  Practitioners of traditional herbal medicine are familiar with the value of using whole plant medicines when appropriate not only to prevent development of antibiotic resistance, but also to successfully treat many types of infections without the need for antibiotics.

A Danish scientist by the name of Jes Gitz Holler, PhD, has recently found a Chilean rainforest plant to contain a natural compound effective in cases of resistant bacterial infections.  The substance apparently targets a resistance mechanism in the bacteria known as Staphylococcus aureus.  The substance originates from the Chilean avocado plant, and shows benefit when used in combination with traditional antibiotic medications.  It works by blocking the bacteria’s defense, preventing the bacteria from pumping the antibiotics across their cell membranes, thus allowing the antibiotics to effectively target the bacteria.

The plant specimens that were gathered for the study came from Chile, in a region where the local people use the leaves from this plant for wound-healing.

By using this compound in conjunction with antibiotics, the concentration of antibiotics required to inhibit bacterial growth was found to be reduced at least eight-fold.  With results this impressive, researchers now find themselves on a quest to synthetically produce and “optimize chemistry” for this substance, ultimately hoping to develop a new drug that will help combat resistant forms of bacteria.

According to Jes Gitz Holler, "For all intents and purposes, the drug industry is not pursuing research into new antibiotics. It is simply too expensive relative to possible earnings, and there is more money in drugs to treat chronic diseases such as diabetes. Therefore, the bacteria are winning the race -- resistance increases and treatment options are scarce. Research will have to find new paths and natural substances are one of them.”

While it is incredibly exciting that yet another plant has been recognized for some of its impressive medicinal properties, it is concerning that the overriding tendency after a discovery like this is to immediately jump to isolate and chemically-manipulate certain constituents from the plant, for the purpose of developing a new profitable drug.  When substances are isolated from plants and then synthetically-altered using chemistry, many of the potential medicinal properties of that plant are left behind.  Traditional herbal medicine practitioners often celebrate plant wisdom, acknowledging the ability of a particular plant to provide important medicinal effects based on all constituents within the plant working together in a synergistic fashion.

Science is a spectacular tool that can help us to identify important components and constituents of our world, often breaking things down into smaller units that feed our understanding.  And although we should certainly pursue understanding the pieces that make up the whole, let’s not forget the big picture of things!

While it’s a fabulous discovery that the Chilean avocado plant appears to offer benefit in cases of antibiotic-resistance, keep in mind that there are undoubtedly many plants with health benefits probably growing in your own backyard or somewhere nearby!  Many of these plants are yet to be “discovered” but more importantly, many of them that would be growing in people’s backyards and gardens are all too frequently replaced by lawns or some combination of pretty hybrid flowers.  We just might have our own local version of the Chilean avocado plant growing right under our noses!

The study discussed above was published in the Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy. 

Dr. Shana McQueen    


Feb 10, 2012

L Arginine is Benefical for the heart Because it Improves Blood Flow.

L Arginine is an amino acid that changes into nitric oxide in the body.  Nitric oxide is a powerful neurotransmitter that helps blood vessels relax and improve circulation. L arginine is beneficial for the heart in that it improves blood flow in the arteries of the heart.  This improved blood flow can improve clogged arteries, chest pain and coronary artery disease. L Arginine has also been shown to lower blood pressure in some individuals. Since it relaxes arteries and improves blood flow it may also help with erectile dysfunction.

Coenzyme Q10 Oxygenates the Heart.

Coenzyme Q10 (COQ10) is an antioxidant that naturally occurs in the cell mitochondria. Coenzyme Q10 works by oxygenating the heart.  People with high cholesterol and congestive heart failure generally have low coenzyme Q10 levels.  A study 2007 published in the American Journal of Cardiology showed that statins the drugs frequently prescribed for high cholesterol deplete the bodies COQ10 stores so supplementation is needed to restore these levels.  Coenzyme Q10 combats cardiovascular disease by acting as an antioxidant, it has natural blood thinning effects and oxygenates the heart.  I especially like COQ10 at this altitude because there is less oxygen saturation here in Vail. A good dose would be 100 -200 mg a day.

Feb 7, 2012

Heart Disease Genes Can be Altered by Dietary Choices

Have you always believed that you are doomed to develop cardiovascular disease because stroke, heart attack, or hypertension “run in your family?”  Maybe your mom suffered from diabetes  and your father had a massive heart attack, and now you feel it’s soon to be your unfortunate fate. 
We do know that a family history of stroke, heart disease, diabetes, or other cardiovascular illnesses do influence one’s risk of developing similar disease, and researchers have discovered genes that can significantly raise risk for cardiovascular disease.  However, exciting research has also indicated that we also may have great power at altering our apparent “fates” by changing the expression of these types of genes.  We may not be doomed after all, even if we have a strong family history of cardiovascular disease. 
The key to this seems to be as simple as consuming a diet rich in raw fruits and vegetables.  Researchers at McMaster and McGill universities published a study in the journal PLoS Medicine, revealing from their findings that one of the genes playing a major role in heart disease can be altered through consumption of substantial amounts of fruits and veggies.
One of the principle investigators of the study, Dr. Jamie Engert, noted, “We know that 9p21 genetic variants increase the risk of heart disease for those that carry it.  But it was a surprise to find that a healthy diet could significantly weaken its effect."
In a study that included over 27,000 individuals from across the world, this represents one of the most expansive gene and diet interaction studies ever performed on cardiovascular disease.  Researchers looked at the connection between what individuals ate and influence on their 9p21 genes.  Results of the study indicated that those eating a diet centered upon raw veggies, fruits, and berries and who also held the genes putting them at high risk for heart disease were NOT at elevated risk of heart attack compared with individuals lacking the high risk gene.  In other words, a healthful diet including plenty of fruits and vegetables can cancel out some of the negative effects of having genes predisposing one to heart disease.

Further research is necessary to determine the underlying mechanisms responsible for this effect, but this study is yet more proof that we are beings of incredible power!  Even if we have been handed some distinct disadvantages when it comes to our genetic heritage, the choices we make on a daily basis have much to do with whether we set ourselves up for health or disease. 

Dr. Shana McQueen

Parents Choosing Natural Therapies & Lifestyle Changes for ADHD

When it comes to children with ADHD, many parents are increasingly turning to natural therapies and lifestyle changes for treatment, according to research conducted at the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center.  Published in the journal Focus on Alternative and Complementary Therapies, the small-scale research study incorporated information from intake forms, physician reports and lab studies for at least 75 patients who sought medical care from an integrative pediatrician over the period of 18 months.   

Researchers found that the majority of families with ADHD children expressed interest in learning how diet, exercise, stress management, and sleep may influence their children.  The recommendations made by these pediatricians incorporated things such as health promotion information, dietary supplements like multivitamins and omega-3 fatty acids, and specialist referrals. 

According Dr. Kathy Kemper, professor of public health sciences, "Many parents are reluctant to put their children on medication for ADHD, and instead want to first try healthy lifestyle options to help promote optimal focus and attention."  Dr. Kemper was in charge of the study and expressed her goal of trying to determine what parents seek to learn from an integrative pediatrician when searching for alternative ADHD treatments. 

While thirty percent of parents involved in the study expressed concern about ADHD, only thirteen percent of children were actually taking medication.  Many of the children with ADHD had experienced concurrent ailments for which they were seeking treatment from medical specialists and primary care physicians. However, it was noted that these same doctors tended to avoid suggesting medications for ADHD.  

Some of Dr. Kemper’s advice for parents with children who may have difficulty concentrating in class is to “be sure he eats a really good breakfast, or try having him go to bed an hour earlier to see if that helps.”  She goes on to say that, “If your child can't sit still to do homework when he gets home from school, have him go outside to shoot some hoops and then try doing homework.”  She emphasizes using healthy lifestyle modifications that are low-risk prior to considering medication. 

Dr. Shana McQueen