Tag Archives: Omega-3 fatty acid

Grass-fed Vs. Grain-fed Beef – No More Myths!

If you listen to the US Cattlemen’s Association, they will tell you there is no difference between factory farmed, grain-fed cows and grass-fed cows. They will point to this study and that study to prove their point. I think most people inherently know that isn’t true.

I recently came across a study that summarizes all studies done on grass-fed vs. grain-fed beef and they came to a very different conclusion. Their conclusion is that grass-fed beef is healthier for us in many ways.  Watch the video below for the details.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Diet

Fish Oil and your Baby’s Health

Fish oil caps

Image by Stephen Cummings via Flickr

A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association has concluded that “the use of DHA-rich fish oil capsules compared with vegetable oil capsules during pregnancy did not result in lower levels of postpartum depression in mothers or improved cognitive and language development in their offspring during early childhood.”

The ingredient they tested, docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA, has been shown repeatedly in other studies to be helpful for women and their babies.  Unfortunately, this study, because of where it has been published, will get all the headlines and I fear that some people will decide that fish oil during pregnancy is unnecessary.  This couldn’t be further from the truth.

This study followed roughly 2400 women from less than 21 weeks gestation to birth and analyzed data regarding the mother’s mood postpartum and the child’s cognitive development at 18 months.  Half of the participants were given fish oil containing 800mg/day of DHA and half were given a vegetable oil placebo.  What the study found was that depression scores in women taking the DHA were the same as the women taking the placebo and the cognitive development of the children was the same at 18 months regardless of intervention.  While you cannot argue with the findings of the study (they found what they found) I do have a problem with the implications this makes for high DHA fish oil.

Many studies have concluded that fish oil and DHA in particular is important for improving brain function.  Observational studies have shown that consumption of fish oil reduces postpartum depression and raises the I.Q. of children.  This is in direct contrast to what this study has concluded.  A 2003 study showed that children with higher levels of DHA had higher I.Q. scores at age 4 than controls.

Other benefits are known as well.  Fish are a rich source of long-chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA), essential nutrients that have important structural and physiological roles in several body systems, including neurological, immune, and cardiovascular. Because humans cannot synthesize omega-3s, these nutrients must be consumed in the diet. Conversion from the parent omega -3, (linolenic acid), to the more biologically active long-chain omega-3 DHA and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), is inefficient and therefore consumption of some preformed omega-3 is important for optimal health.

Possible Flaws

Perhaps this recent study was unable to properly assess cognitive performance at 18 months.  It is much easier to assess in a 4 year old.  Also, the benefits may not be seen until later in life.  In a society where we want results immediately it is easy to understand why they would try and observe for the benefits of DHA at only 18 months.  However, a very real possibility exists; maybe these benefits are not observable that quickly.  Are the negative effects of a bad diet on heart disease observable in a 20 year old?  Of course not.  We must wait much longer (perhaps until the person is at least 45) to clearly see the cause and effect relationship. This example perfectly illustrates the fact that not all relationships are readily available directly after treatment.  Unfortunately, these studies continue to employ a drug based research approach to nutrition.  They are separate entities and need to be researched accordingly.

Another possible flaw is that they did not assess dietary intake of omega-3s in the study participants.  This is problematic because it is possible patients already had enough DHA to provide the benefits.  It is also possible that the control group ate more fish and therefore had enough serum DHA to skew the results.  This is something that should be addressed when this is studied again.

A third flaw is that this supplement provided 800mg/day of DHA with only 100mg/day of EPA.  Research is mixed on the effect of EPA on depression and brain function.  However, many authors argue that EPA is important in this picture and this study failed to take that into account.  Their goal was to test high dose DHA but we must consider that hardly anything in nutrition works in isolation.  It almost always works in tandem with other nutrients.  This is again an example of a drug based research approach to nutrition.  Drugs are tested in isolation and work in isolation because they are synthetic.  For that reason they cannot work synergistically with the body.  The body has no innate chemical pathway for them to work with because they do not exist in nature.  This allows them to work independent of the body’s systems but also allows them to be tested independently.  Nutrition is not like that.  Not one bit.

One good thing about this study is that DHA was shown to be safe with virtually no side effects.  This is good because women can continue to take fish oil without any fear of negative effects on their babies.

The bottom line is this: fish oil supplementation has been shown repeatedly to be beneficial for many factors in health.  There seems to be little down side to taking fish oil.  This recent study is just one study.  It will unfortunately get a lot of press because it was published in JAMA.  I will continue to encourage my patients to take fish oil during pregnancy because the vast majority of research is positive and I am confident that it is a benefit to my patients.

2 Comments

Filed under Brain Health, Diet, Public Health

Fighting Depression Naturally

Depression

Image via Wikipedia

Depression is a huge problem in the United States.  The numbers are quite amazing. Approximately 20.9 million American adults, or about 9.5 percent of the U.S. population age 18 and older in a given year, have a mood disorder. Depression is not just a disorder for adults, however. As many as one in 33 children and one in eight adolescents have clinical depression.

Depression is characterized by an all-encompassing low mood accompanied by low self-esteem, and by loss of interest or pleasure in normally enjoyable activities. Unipolar depression, the most common mood disorder in the U.S., was first described by Hippocrates in the 5th century B.C. He believed that depression was caused by an imbalance in the four humors – blood, phlegm, yellow bile and black bile.  Excess black bile caused depression according to Hippocrates. In fact, the Greek term for depression, melancholia, means black bile.

This view may seem far fetched, but the fact that depression is a physical process is correct. Even Freud wrote of the various presentations of depression which range from mild and cognitive, to severe and somatic.
There are several ’causes’ of depression.  I put ’causes’ in quotes because no one really knows for sure what ’causes’ depression.  There are many theories.  In my opinion, an imbalance in the neurotransmitter system is a scientifically sound explanation as to how a person could develop a mood disorder.  I also like to consider that if a person is not in good general health, depression is more likely to take hold.  This is a view that is also supported by the research.
So if these are two ’causes’ of depression, how can we effectively treat it?  Good question.  See my answers below.

Get Healthy

First and foremost a person that is depressed must make every effort to get healthy.  This includes exercise and dietary changes.  Junk in equals junk out.  Period.  If all one eats is McDonald’s value meals they are very unlikely to be healthy and much more likely to develop depression in my opinion.  Did you ever see the movie SuperSize Me?  A documentarian decides to eat nothing but McDonald’s for 30 days to see what happens.  Not only did he fall apart physically but he developed depression! Now, this is just one case and is a bit anecdotal, but the result confirmed the  hypothesis I made before I even saw the movie.

You must eat a healthy diet in order for your body to work properly and be healthy.  For some reason modern medicine has separated the health of our body from the health of our minds.  It is widely understood that to have a healthy body we need to eat nutritious foods.  It is far less accepted that to have a healthy mind we need to have a healthy diet.  Why is this the case?  The food that we eat provides fuel to our bodies and to our brains. The same food nourishes our entire system, not simply our physical bodies.

Exercise is unbelievably critical.  In fact, research has shown that the #1 cure for depression lasting less than 7 years is exercise.  Exercise does many things for the body. It improves blood flow, is a great stress reliever and changes the chemical balance in the brain to name just a few.  If you feel as if you suffer from depression and you do one thing for yourself this should be the one.  It has long lasting benefits in terms of depression and helps get the rest of your body healthy as well.

Supplements to take

There are several supplements that have been shown to reduce depression.  I would not suggest trying them all at once.  And I would suggest you consult a physician that is trained in functional medicine before you start a program.

5-HTP

If your problem is low serotonin this may help you.  5-HTP is short for 5-hydroxytryptophan.  5-HTP is the direct precursor in the body for serotonin.  Taking it may increase your serotonin levels and improve your mood.

St. John’s Wort

This is an herbal product that is used here in the U.S. to help with depression.  It acts by affecting the serotonin system.  I have found that it helps some, but not all depressed patients.  It’s a popular depression treatment in Europe.

SAMe

Short for the chemical name S-adenosylmethionine, it is pronounced “sammy.”  This has worked well in my practice for many people.  It is available over the counter in the U.S., but it’s used in Europe as a prescription drug to treat depression.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Diets higher in omega-3 fatty acids are known to protect people from depression.  It also appears that consuming more omega-3s reduces the symptoms of depression.  Consuming more in one’s diet is not likely to be enough.  Most people will have to supplement their diet with the oil or capsules to gain the most benefit.

This is just a small sample of the things that one can do to naturally ease depression.  People are most successful when combine exercise, diet and supplements together.  It will give you the best chance of improving your mood and feeling happier and more alive.

1 Comment

Filed under Brain Health, Diet

Reducing Your Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease Naturally

PET scan of a human brain with Alzheimer's disease

Image via Wikipedia

As of next year the first of the baby boomers will reach 65 years old and by 2029 all of them will be at least 65.  This is significant because as we age certain diseases become more and more prominent.  One of them is Alzheimer’s disease.  This disease robs people of the faculties much too soon and causes heartache and financial hardship for families across the US.

Just How Big Is The Problem?

About 24 million people worldwide are known to be affected with dementia. This number is expected to balloon to 84 million by the year 2040.  These numbers include all forms of dementia, but up to 80% of dementia is caused by Alzheimer’s disease (AD).  In the US alone 5.3 million American’s have Alzheimer’s Disease and 96% of them are over the age of 65.  In just five years the number of Americans with Alzheimer’s will jump to 7.7 million and by 2050 the number is projected to more than double to 16 million.  The numbers truly are staggering.  As a matter of fact, AD has recently passed diabetes, yes diabetes, as the 6th most common cause of death in the US.  As our population continues to grow older because people are living longer, the problem is likely to get worse.  Current statistics show that just over 50% of people who are over 85 will go on to develop AD.

AD is also a very expensive problem for the United States.  In 2005, total Medicare spending was $91 billion and the total US cost was $172 billion for AD.  AD patients make up roughly 13% of Medicare enrollees but account for more than 1/3 of its spending.  The problem will only grow as our population ages.

So What Can I Do To Reduce My Risk?

The best way to treat AD is to prevent it in the first place.  There is very good research behind several nutritional supplements that can significantly reduce your risk of developing dementia as you age.

Vitamin E

Here’s what one study found on vitamin E:

“Among MCI-AD patients, the longitudinal decrease in cellular vitamin E was associated with the deterioration in cognitive performance. These results suggest that accumulation of oxidative damage may start in pre-symptomatic phases of AD pathology and that progression to AD might be related to depletion of antioxidant defenses.”

-J Alzheimers Dis. 2010 Aug 6.

So what does that mean.  Basically what this study found was that among patients who has mild cognitive impairment (MCI) or AD, people with the lowest levels of vitamin E had poorest performance on mental testing.  Oxidative damage is the process by which our brain tissue is broken down in AD.  Vitamin E helps fight this process.

Another study concluded:

“In conclusion, high plasma levels of vitamin E are associated with a reduced risk of AD in advanced age. The neuroprotective effect of vitamin E seems to be related to the combination of different forms, rather than to alpha-tocopherol alone.”

-J Alzheimers Dis. 2010;20(4):1029-37.

This is saying that higher levels of vitamin E in the blood were associated with a significant reduction in AD with advanced age.  It also says that when taking vitamin E you should be taking a combination of forms, not a singular type.  When you look at the back of your vitamin E supplement be sure that it says ‘mixed tocopherols.”  That will provide you with the most benefit.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is the supplement of the hour right now.  It is being studied by everyone and just about everyone has found that it is critically important for overall health.  New research also shows it helps prevent AD.

“Vitamin D insufficiency and deficiency was associated with all-cause dementia, Alzheimer disease, stroke (with and without dementia symptoms), and MRI indicators of cerebrovascular disease. These findings suggest a potential vasculoprotective role of vitamin D.”

-Neurology. 2010 Jan 5;74(1):18-26. Epub 2009 Nov 25

This study is telling us that vitamin D insufficiency and deficiency was associated with higher risk for dementia and AD.  What this means is that even having levels that are slightly decreased (insufficiency) are associated with higher risk.  Keeping vitamin D levels up not only is important for bone health, cancer reduction and fall prevention but also reduces your risk of AD.  Pretty amazing stuff.

Another study on vitamin D found that:

“Clinical data suggest that vitamin D insufficiency is associated with an increased risk of several CNS diseases, including multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, seasonal affective disorder and schizophrenia.  Overall, imbalances in the calcipherol system appear to cause abnormal function, including premature aging, of the CNS.”

- Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2009 Dec;34 Suppl 1:S278-86

This study is particularly interesting in that it shows that low vitamin D levels are associated with an increased risk of several CNS or central nervous system diseases including AD.  It also concluded that imbalances in the calcipherol, or vitamin D, system causes premature aging of the brain and central nervous system.  Why is this problematic?  Remember, the number one risk factor for AD is aging.  If we can slow this process, particularly in the brain, we can slow the onset of AD.  Vitamin D can do this for you.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids (Fish Oil)

“A plethora of in vitro, animal model, and human data, gathered over the past decade, highlight the important role DHA may play in the development of a variety of neurological and psychiatric disorders, including AD. Cross sectional and prospective cohort data have demonstrated that reduced dietary intake or low brain levels of DHA are associated with accelerated cognitive decline or the development of incipient dementia, including AD.”

-Clin Interv Aging. 2010 Apr 7;5:45-61.

DHA is a particular form of omega-3 fatty acid or fish oil.  This study concluded that low intake of this particular fatty acid or low brain levels of it are associated with cognitive decline and accelerated development of AD.  This is of particular interest because of all of the wonderful other benefits that omega-3’s give us.  You can prevent or reduce the risk of many other diseases simply by supplementing with fish oil.

There was this study as well:

“Plasma DHA was associated with slower decline on BVRT (Benton Visual Retention Test) performances in ApoE-epsilon4 carriers only. EPA and DHA may contribute to delaying decline in visual working memory in ApoE-epsilon4 carriers.”

-Neurobiol Aging. 2010 Jun 4.

This study was done on people who have the gene that is linked to an increased risk of AD.  What it concluded was very exciting.  Basically it found that the higher the omega-3 DHA was in the plasma the slower the decline in memory in people that were genetically predisposed to getting AD.  That’s wonderful news!  Many people think that their genetics are their destiny, but this study showed otherwise.

In Summary

This is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of research that is available on how to combat and reduce your risk of developing AD.  What we did not touch on in this article is that keeping your heart healthy and controlling your blood sugar is of utmost importance.  Do those things and take the supplements listed above and you can significantly reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

2 Comments

Filed under Brain Health, Diet, Public Health