August 2019 - Wakunaga of America

Gut Function 101

Within 24-72 hours, the food we eat makes its way through the entire digestive system. The process begins in the mouth. When we chew, enzymes released in our saliva begin breaking down the food. The food is then swallowed and transported to the stomach, where more processing takes place. Breaking down food into energy requires some pretty harsh chemicals. When food enters the stomach, it is sprayed with hydrochloric acid and enzymes. The thick mucus coating that lines the inside of the stomach protects it from this acidic environment.

On the Move

Some very significant actions occur during each step of the digestive process, but the real magic happens in your small and large intestines. Once food travels from the stomach into the small intestine, the gut releases immune cells that check for bacterial contaminants. If contaminants are found, they are normally destroyed so they can be safely eliminated without making you sick. The walls of the small intestine absorb the water and nutrients extracted from food, transporting them across the intestinal lining into the bloodstream.

A healthy intestinal lining allows only these properly digested fats, protein, carbohydrates, along with vitamins and minerals, to pass into the blood stream. Those nutrients are then delivered to the cells. A healthy intestinal lining also acts as a barrier to keep out disease-causing bacteria, foreign substances, and larger undigested food particles.

After a journey through about 25 feet of small intestine, the partially digested food makes its way to the large intestine – also called the colon. This is where the remaining food is transformed into stool so that the body can eliminate it.

When Things Go Wrong

As complicated as digestion is, it’s no wonder most of us have experienced digestive upset at one time or another. While most digestive upsets are nothing more than a minor inconvenience, if symptoms become chronic, it may signal that the body isn’t getting all the nutrients it needs for optimal health. Here are the most common conditions that can upend your gastrointestinal tract:

Constipation – Having three of fewer bowel movements per week, and hard, dry stools – plagues about 20 percent of us, and becomes more prevalent as we age. Stress, poor eating habits, lack of exercise, food allergies, an imbalance of bacteria in the gut (known as dysbiosis), and a lack of digestive enzymes are common constipation triggers. Other, less obvious causes include prescription drugs (such as antidepressants, antacids, and some pain medications), hypothyroidism, and diabetes.

Diarrhea – Diarrhea can be caused by a variety of factors, such as a gastrointestinal bug, antibiotics, food poisoning, or even stress. Normally, short-term diarrhea lasts just a day or two and typically goes away on its own. However, diarrhea lasting more than a few days may be a sign of a more serious problem. If diarrhea lasts for four weeks or more, see a healthcare provider as this may signal a chronic disease.

Gastroenteritis – This is a catch-all phrase that doctors often use to describe any irritation of the stomach and intestines. Marked by nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, and a low-grade fever, true gastroenteritis is an inflammation of the lining of the intestines caused by a virus, bacteria, or a parasite. The most common culprit is the norovirus, which spreads through contaminated food or water, and by contact with an infected person.

Since a well-functioning GI tract is responsible for processing every morsel of food you eat and turning it into the fuel your body needs to perform at its best, treat it well! One step you can take is to feed your gut’s beneficial bacteria with probiotics, from foods or with a supplement. Look for a probiotic supplement that has been clinically studied, is shelf-stable, and aim for minimum of one to two billion CFUs to maintain good health.


  1. “The Good Gut” Healthy Living Guide, FreshLife Media, July 2019

This article is for informational purposes only. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice.

5 Smart Ways to Boost Your Cognitive Health

We are here to serve as a gentle reminder that your cognitive health matters too. Everyone’s brain changes with age, and your mental function along with it. Mental decline is common, and it’s usually one of the most worrisome consequences of aging. We are going to share some simple tips that you can use to maintain your cognitive health. But before we get into that, let’s shed a little light on how the brain ages.

The Aging Brain

It’s easy to spot how our bodies change with age, our hair turns grey, we get wrinkles because our skin loses its elasticity, the list goes on. But an aging brain can be slightly more difficult to pick up on. Just like our muscles and joints, certain cells in our brains can stiffen up, which was shown in a recent study on mice, in the journal Nature1. But this is just one of the ways our brains change as we age. From declines in memory and mental abilities, to microscopic changes in brain cells and chemistry, our brains go through a number of transitions as we get older.

As you age, you will begin to notice subtle changes in your cognitive abilities. Memorizing new information will become more difficult, and remembering names and numbers will be tougher too. Your autobiographical memory of life events and the knowledge you’ve accumulated over the years (facts and information) decline with age, however, procedural memory (i.e. learning how to ride a bike), remains pretty much intact2. But fear not! Because though some things will decline, others may improve! A Seattle Longitudinal Study, which tracked the cognitive abilities of thousands of adults over 50, showed that people performed better on tests of verbal abilities, spatial reasoning, math and abstract reasoning than they did when they were young adults3.

Top 5 Ways to Improve Cognitive Health

Here are five ways you can help maintain healthy brain function:

Mental stimulation: Give your brain a workout! By the time you’re an adult, you’ve developed millions of neural pathways that help you to process and recall information quickly, solve problems, and execute habitual tasks with very little mental effort. But if you always stick to these “well-worn” paths, you aren’t giving your brain the stimulation it needs to keep developing4. Memory, like muscles, requires you to “use it or lose it.” Some easy things you can do to stimulate your brain are to read, take a course at your local community college, and try to incorporate some crosswords and word puzzles into your weekly routine. Drawing and painting can also be great too!

Get your sweat on: Now that you’ve given your brain a workout, don’t forget about your body! A daily form of exercise like walking, yoga, cycling (or whatever your favorite form of exercise is) can really help improve blood flow, including blood flow to the brain. It is also great at lowering your blood pressure, improving your cholesterol levels, helping to keep your blood sugar balanced, and reducing your mental stress too.

Heal your gut: Have you ever heard of something called the gut-brain axis? The gut and the brain are connected in your body via chemicals called neurotransmitters. Down in the gut, bacteria make neuroactive compounds, including about 90% of the neurotransmitter serotonin, which regulates our emotions5. The brain can also send signals to the gastrointestinal system to stimulate or suppress digestion. The gut also produces the neurotransmitter called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which helps control feelings of fear and stress. So, keeping your digestive system balanced and your microbiome healthy can indirectly help your brain, and make sure it’s in the best shape possible for producing these neurotransmitters, among other things. To keep your gut in tip-top shape, we recommend adding a quality probiotic supplement to your routine. Look for one that contains clinically-researched human strains of bacteria, like Lactobacillus gasseri, Bifidobacterium bifidum, and bifidobacterium longum, which support your body’s GI function and immune health.

Ingredients to include in your daily supplements: There are certain ingredients you can look for in the supplements you take everyday, which can help to improve your brain’s health. One of these beneficial nutrients is ginkgo biloba. It is believed that ginkgo improves cognitive function because it promotes good blood circulation in the brain and can protect the brain from neural damage6. Another great ingredient to look for is ginseng. Ginseng has been found to help regulate neurotransmitter levels. It can also reduce oxidative stress and inflammation in the brain7.

Manage Stress: Find a way to manage your stress. In addition to the mental anxiety that stress can bring on, it can create inflammation in the body, so it’s best to find an outlet for it, and sooner rather than later. Talk to a family member or friend, keep a journal, practice breathing exercises…whatever works best for you.

You only have one brain and it needs to last you a lifetime, so take care of the one you have!

This article is for informational purposes only. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice.

Probiotics: Beyond Digestive Benefits

Here is just a sampling of what scientists know so far:

Allergies: Emerging evidence suggests that probiotics may help prevent and even treat seasonal allergies like hay fever and environmental allergies to things like dust mites. Researchers believe that probiotics can help allergy sufferers by modulating the immune system and limiting the release of inflammatory chemicals involved in the allergic response. Most of the research for probiotics for allergies has been done on Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, showing that these probiotics can help with prevention and the reduction of allergy symptoms.1

Brain Health: Research shows that the gut and brain are connected via a partnership called the gut-brain axis. This suggests that the microbiota in the gut can impact what happens in the brain. One clinical trial published in the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience found that Alzheimer’s patients who drank milk made with four probiotic species for 12 weeks scored better on a test to measure cognitive impairment compared with those who drank regular milk.2 Another study in the journal Gastroenterology found that women who ate yogurt with a mix of probiotics twice a day for four weeks were calmer when exposed to images of angry and frightened faces compared with a control group.

Heart Health: According to the American Heart Association, probiotics may help to maintain healthy blood pressure, especially in those already diagnosed with hypertension. Probiotics may also help to keep cholesterol in check. Some studies show that one probiotic specifically – L. reuteri – can support a healthy balance between good and bad cholesterol by breaking up bile salts. But these benefits may just be the tip of the iceberg. Early findings in the journal Gut Microbes suggests that probiotics may also boost vascular function and may even improve cardiac remodeling in the heart.3

Immunity: Behind digestion, immunity is the second most popular use of probiotics, since about 70 percent of the body’s immune cells reside in the gut. The research is vast. One recent analysis examining 20 published trials concluded that Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium probiotics can cut the duration and severity of cold symptoms and lead to fewer missed days at work or school.

Specifically, Swedish researchers in one large study found that Lactobacillus plantarum HEAL9 (DSM 15312) and Lactobacillus paracasei 8700:2 (DSM 13434) strains, given at 1 billion CFUs per day, can drop common cold symptoms by about two and a half days. Another study examined the effects of a three-strain probiotic blend (Lactobacillus helveticus Rosell-52, Bifidobacterium bifidum Rosell-71 and Bifidobacterium infantis Rosell-33) on kids’ sick days. Researchers found that just 25.8 percent of the children who took the probiotics had a sick day, whereas 42.8 percent of the children who did not take the probiotics missed school.

According to a double blind, randomized, controlled trial, the intake of probiotic bacteria Lactobacillus gasseri (PA 16/8), Bifidobacterium longum (SP 07/3) and B. bifidum (MF 20/5) for at least 3 months significantly shortened common cold episodes by almost 2 days and reduced the severity of symptoms.

Oral Health: High sugar intake, as well as poor oral hygiene, are the primary contributors to halitosis (bad breath) as well as periodontal disease. A growing number of studies suggest that certain species of Lactobacillus can offer benefits for oral health and play a role in preventing and treating oral infections, dental caries, periodontal disease, oral candidiasis (thrush) and halitosis. Research suggests that probiotics reduce the levels of pathogenic bacteria in the oral cavity, reducing inflammation and producing substances (lactic acid, hydrogen peroxide) that have antimicrobial effects. A review of 12 randomized clinical trials concluded that probiotics can be beneficial for the maintenance of oral health, due to their ability to decrease the number of oral pathogens.5

Skin Health: Skin is the largest organ of the human body, and is highly dependent on nutrients to achieve peak performance. So, it makes sense that an unbalanced digestive system, which can deprive the entire body of nutrients, can also lead to dull and problematic skin. The good news is that emerging research shows that probiotics may have a role to play in skin health.

One study randomized young women to receive either conventional yogurt or yogurt enhanced with Lactococcus lactis strain H61 for four weeks. Blood samples taken at the beginning and end of the trial measured skin hydration and elasticity, as well as sebum and melanin content. After four weeks, skin hydration among all women in the study increased. However, sebum content of the women who consumed the probiotic yogurt rose significantly, while the levels of the women who ate the conventional yogurt did not.6

Weight Control: Researchers know that overweight and thin people have very different gut bacteria populations, suggesting that bacteria may be a factor when it comes to obesity. In fact, when overweight people begin to lose weight, their gut bacteria starts to resemble that of thin people.

One probiotic strain in particular, Lactobacillus gasseri SBT2055, was found to promote the body’s excretion of fat during bowel movements, instead of absorbing it. Put to the test, a study among 30 healthy Japanese adults found that five billion CFUs daily for just one week was enough to start reducing belly fat and promoting weight loss. Another study showed that when 28 healthy but overweight participants ate yogurt containing both Lactobacillus fermentum and Lactobacillus amylovorus, all of them lost body fat. In fact, people who ate yogurt fortified with the L. amylovorus strain lost four percent body fat, a statistically significant figure, suggesting that gut microflora may increase metabolism.7

Why? Researchers speculate that probiotics improve blood glucose and weight control by cooling inflammation and balancing the gut-derived hormones that regulate appetite.

Mood: The gut-brain axis is an emerging area of microbiome science, which suggests that the microbiota in the gut can impact what happens in the brain. According to one study[1], supplementing with probiotics can lead to less stress and anxiety, better memory and lower levels of cortisol in the morning. This research came on the heels of a British study that suggested that prebiotics may soothe anxiety.8

Scientists speculate that the gut-brain axis is powered by the fact that gut cells make 95 percent of the body’s serotonin, along with other mood-enhancing neurotransmitters such as GABA, dopamine, adrenaline and noradrenaline.

Apart from the digestive benefits that probiotics provide, you can see that they offer a great deal of other health advantages too. Try adding a probiotic to your daily routine and reap the benefits in other areas of your body!



This article is for informational purposes only. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice.

Podcast: Dr. Hoffman and Dr. LaValle Talk ‘Green Power’

From the veggies that grace your dinner plate to nutrient-dense algae and grasses, greens are a rich source of vitamins, minerals, and other micronutrients that scavenge free radicals, help detoxify the body, build blood, and enhance energy. Follow the links below and take a listen!

Podcast Part 1

Podcast Part 2

About Dr. James LaValle

Jim LaValle, R.Ph., C.C.N, a nationally recognized clinical pharmacist, author, board-certified clinical nutritionist, and founder of Metabolic Code Enterprises, Inc. a web platform and practice solution enterprise, launching AIR Support and the Metabolic Code Assessment.

About Dr. Ronald Hoffman

Dr. Ronald Hoffman is one of New York’s pioneering Integrative Medicine practitioners. He obtained his MD from Albert Einstein College of Medicine, and has been practicing for 34 years. His radio program, Intelligent Medicine, is the longest-running physician-hosted health program on the air.

This article is for informational purposes only. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice.

Omega 3 Vs Omega 6: Is One Better than the Other?

Research also suggests that these hunter-gatherers were free of modern inflammatory diseases like heart disease, and diabetes, to name a few, that are some of our primary causes of death today1

When the industrial revolution began, there was actually a shift in the ratio of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids in peoples’ diets. Consumption of omega-6 fatty acids increased at the expense of omega-3 fatty acids. This change was due to the rise of the modern vegetable oil industry and the increased use of cereal grains as feed for livestock2 (which in turn changed the fatty acid profile of meat that humans ate). As vegetable oil consumption rose pretty dramatically, it had a major effect on the ratio of omega-6s and omega-3s in the American diet. This was so dramatic, in fact, that between 1935 and 1939, the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids was reported to be 8.4:1. Today, estimates of this ratio range from an overage of 10:1 to 20:1.

The Essentials

When it comes to these fatty acids, your body does not have the enzyme to produce them, so you must get them from your diet. If you do not get omega-6 and omega-3 fats from your diet, you will develop a deficiency and may become sick. That is why many refer to these fats as “essential” fatty acids. However, these fatty acids are different than most other fats. They are not just used for energy or stored, they are biologically active and have important roles in processes like blood clotting and inflammation. Omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids have different effects on the body. Scientists believe that omega-6s are pro-inflammatory, while omega-3s are anti-inflammatory3. Of course, inflammation is key to our survival. It helps protect our body from infection and injury, which is why Omega-6s are necessary, but it can also cause severe damage and contribute to disease when it is chronic or excessive. In fact, chronic inflammation may be one of the leading causes of some of the most serious modern diseases. It is hypothesized by some scientists that a diet high in omega-6s but low in omega-3s increases inflammation, while a diet that includes balanced amounts of each reduces inflammation4 (Russo, 2009). Those who follow a Western diet (high intake of red meat, processed meat, pre-packaged foods, butter, fried foods…etc.) are typically eating too many omega-6s relative to omega-3s.

Avoid Omega-3 Deficiencies 

The bottom line is that we need to get more omega-3s in our diet. This fatty acid is key to having a healthy heart and well-functioning cells throughout the body. Most Americans do not get the recommended amount of omega-3s, which is about 1-3 grams per day, according to the American Heart Association5 (Schiff, 2018). A deficiency in omega-3 can manifest in the following ways:

  • Rough, dry skin
  • Dry, brittle hair and dandruff
  • Soft, peeling nails
  • Excessive thirst
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Difficulty paying attention
  • Excessive mood swings, depression, and anxiety

We normally think of seafood when it comes to getting our omega-3s in, which is completely accurate, since fish (salmon, mackerel, seabass, oysters, shrimp, sardines…etc.) have a very high concentration of omega-3s, but certain meats are also great sources of the preformed omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA. One problem today though, is that animals are usually fed grain-based feeds containing soy and corn, which reduces their omega-3 content, so the polyunsaturated fats in these meats are mostly omega-6s6. So if you can afford it, grass-fed meat is definitely the better choice. In that vein, it is also a good idea to buy pasteurized or omega-3 enriched eggs, which are higher in omega-3s, compared to eggs from hens raised on grain-based feeds7.

Apart from your diet, another great way to up your omega-3 intake is with a quality supplement. Look for one that contains omega-3 fish oil with EPA and DHA, and vitamin E, which not only supports cholesterol, triglycerides and circulation, but also supports the body’s natural anti-inflammatory response.



This article is for informational purposes only. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice.

Tips for Tipping the Immune Balance Scales to Healthy

Immune Boosting Diet

To help keep your immune system healthy all year long, focus on a balanced eating plan, get enough sleep, and work on stress management. Eating healthily can go a long way in keeping you and your immune system in fighting shape. Good nutrition is essential to a strong, resilient immune system. Here are some items to start including in your diet, to help boost your immunity:

Phytosterols: Phytosterols are compounds found in plants that resemble cholesterol (i.e. are structurally similar to cholesterol). When phytosterols are consumed, they compete with cholesterol absorption in the digestive tract, blocking it, and as a result, lowering cholesterol levels. Some studies have found that getting just two grams of phytosterols per day may help you lower your LDL cholesterol1 (Leech, 2019). Unfortunately, though, most people are not getting nearly this much in their everyday diets. Foods that contain considerable amounts of phytosterols include nuts, seeds, fruits, vegetables, and legumes.

Protein: Protein is part of the body’s defense mechanism. Work on adding a variety of protein-rich foods to your diet, like seafood, lean meat, poultry, eggs, beans, nuts, and seeds.

Vitamin A: Vitamin A helps to regulate the immune system and protects from infections by keeping skin and tissues in the mouth, stomach, intestines, and respiratory system healthy2 (Wolfram, 2017). Get this immune-boosting vitamin from foods like sweet potatoes, carrots, kale, spinach, red bell peppers, apricots, eggs, or foods labeled “vitamin A fortified,” such as milk or cereal.

Vitamin C: Vitamin C protects your body from infection by stimulating the formation of antibodies and boosting immunity. Try adding foods like oranges, grapefruit, tangerines, red bell peppers, papaya, strawberries, and tomato juice, to your diet.

Vitamin E: Vitamin E works as an antioxidant, neutralizing free radicals to improve immune function. Vitamin E rich food include fortified cereals, almonds, sunflower seeds, vegetable oils like sunflower oil, hazelnuts, and peanut butter.

Zinc: Zinc helps the immune system work properly and may help wounds heal. Zinc can be found in lean meat, poultry, seafood, milk, whole grains, beans, seeds, and nuts.

Less Stress and More Sleep

Stress and sleep also play a significant role in keeping your immune system balanced. Ongoing stress makes us susceptible to illness and disease because when under stress, the brain sends out defense signals, which then release an array of hormones that not only get us ready for emergency situations but depresses our immunity at the same time3 (Goliszek, 2019). Because the effects of stress are cumulative, even ordinary, day-to-day activities can eventually lead to more serious health issues. So it is important to be aware of our stress, and to find ways to mitigate it. It is difficult to set out a one-size-fits-all gameplan for dealing with stress, since what stresses one person out may not phase another, but there are certain things that are helpful for everyone. Meditation can help the body and mind to relax, and can act as a buffer to protect the body from the harmful effects of stress. Social support can help too. People with strong social support systems have better overall health and are more resistant to infections. Hold onto those friendships!

Poor sleep can affect your immunity as well. While more sleep won’t necessarily prevent you from getting sick, skimping on it could adversely affect your immune system, leaving you more susceptible to a bad cold or the flu. To stay healthy, try to get the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep each night. This will help keep your immune system in good shape. If you typically work late at work, or go out late a lot, try to make up for lost sleep with naps. If possible, take a 30 minute nap in the afternoon, which has been shown to decrease stress and offset the negative effects that sleep deprivation has on the immune system4 (National Sleep Foundation, 2019).

If your diet is lacking in the vitamins and nutrients mentioned, you can add a supplement to help bridge the gaps. There are also supplements that can help to balance your immune system. Look for one that contains plant sterols and sterolins in a ratio of 100:1, this has been clinically proven to help restore, strengthen, and balance your body’s immune system.

Keep your immune system strong by incorporating these healthy lifestyle habits and reap the benefits of vibrant health!



This article is for informational purposes only. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice.