Omega-3 fatty acids: are supplements truly necessary for optimal brain health?

Greater intake of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA) is associated with decreased risk of brain disorders (such as Alzheimer’s disease) and cardiovascular disease.1-3 DHA is a crucial factor in early brain development because it is a major constituent of cell membranes in the brain, retina, and nervous system. There is significant evidence in the fossil record that a increase in DHA availability in the diet of early humans was responsible for the expansion of the brain into the large, complex organ it has now become.4,5 DHA requirements are the greatest in the developing brain during the last trimester of pregnancy and the first two years of life. During early life, a baby’s only source of this building block of brain and eye tissue is its mother’s milk.6,7 Several studies have documented improved cognitive scores in breastfed infants compared to formula-fed infants, prompting supplementation of infant formula with DHA in the U.S.8 But what if the “normal” amount of DHA in American women’s breast milk is still not enough? What if the developing brain requires more DHA for optimal cognitive development?

A recent study compared the fatty acid content of breast milk in American women in Cincinnati to that of Tsimane women of Bolivia. Tsimane women eat a traditional diet of primarily locally grown plant foods, wild-caught animals, and freshwater fish. The results of the study showed that the DHA concentration of Tsimane mothers’ milk was 400% higher than that of Cincinnati mothers, their concentration of linoleic acid (an omega-6 fatty acid abundant in oils) was 84% lower, and their concentration of trans fat was 260% lower than in Cincinnati mothers.9,10 In a previous analysis, pooling data from 84 studies of breast milk DHA concentrations in many different countries, the U.S. concentrations fell below the worldwide average. The areas with the highest breast milk DHA concentrations were coastal or island nations, suggesting that breast milk DHA concentration is closely linked to the consumption of fish.11

Our modern eating habits have transformed the fatty acid distribution of our diet.12 One of the study’s authors, Steven Gaulin, a professor of anthropology at the University of California at Santa Barbara, noted "The American diet is eroding one of the most important benefits breast milk can provide –– fats that are critical to infant brain development. It's not surprising that, among developed nations, American children are last on international tests of math and science."9

What is the “normal” DHA of content of human breast milk – or rather, the amount that will ideally support brain development in infants? We don’t know for sure. However, these huge differences between a traditional diet and a modern diet, and the high DHA concentrations in high fish-consuming countries indicate that the DHA intake of Americans may be sub-optimal for supporting brain health. The American diet is low in DHA, and high in vegetable oils and trans fats, which limit the elongation of ALA from plant foods into DHA and EPA, and displaces omega-3 fats from cell membranes.4,13 Factory-farmed meats, oils and trans fats are not the appropriate fatty fuel to grow a baby’s brain.

Does this mean that we should eat fish? From the evidence we have now, if you eat with a modern diet (even without oils) and you don’t eat fish regularly, it is almost impossible to have adequate DHA stores, especially for pregnant and nursing women.

Avoiding oils and eating plenty of hemp, chia, flax, walnuts, and leafy greens is likely still not enough, since the conversion rate of ALA (short-chain omega-3) in these foods to DHA (long-chain omega-3) is very low. Large increases in ALA intake have been shown to produce only very slight increases in long-chain omega-3 blood levels. Plus, much of the ALA we consume is burned for energy, not converted to DHA or EPA.14,15

However, modern fish is a heavily polluted food that I do not recommend eating regularly. The DHA in fish may benefit the brain, but the fatty tissues of fish is highly contaminated with mercury, and other pollutants, which could be toxic to the brain and may also contribute to cardiovascular disease.16,17 In addition to the potential effects of mercury on human health, huge declines in wild fish populations have been reported since the 1950s, and populations continue to decline as the purported benefits of fish consumption on heart and brain health increase the demand for fish and fish oils.18 Fish is not an ideal source of DHA; fortunately DHA derived from lab-grown algae is available as a supplement.

One can't really be sure they have ideal levels of omega-3 anymore without supplements. If you eat enough fish to idealize your omega-3 ratio, you get too much mercury, dioxin, and other pollutants. I think it is sensible and conservative to err on the side of caution and eat a diet that contains ALA from flax, chia, walnuts and leafy greens, not merely because of their ALA content, but also for their anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer effects. Then adding a supplement of a clean algae-derived DHA is a wise insurance policy. Significant evidence suggests that a comparatively small amount of DHA and EPA can add health protection without the potential drawbacks of high dose fish oil capsules.19-21

 

 References:

1. Yurko-Mauro K. Cognitive and cardiovascular benefits of docosahexaenoic acid in aging and cognitive decline. Curr Alzheimer Res 2010;7:190-196.
2. Yurko-Mauro K, McCarthy D, Rom D, et al. Beneficial effects of docosahexaenoic acid on cognition in age-related cognitive decline. Alzheimers Dement 2010.
3. Kris-Etherton PM, Harris WS, Appel LJ. Fish consumption, fish oil, omega-3 fatty acids, and cardiovascular disease. Circulation 2002;106:2747-2757.
4. Crawford MA, Broadhurst CL. The role of docosahexaenoic and the marine food web as determinants of evolution and hominid brain development: the challenge for human sustainability. Nutr Health 2012;21:17-39.
5. Bradbury J. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA): an ancient nutrient for the modern human brain. Nutrients 2011;3:529-554.
6. Ryan AS, Astwood JD, Gautier S, et al. Effects of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acid supplementation on neurodevelopment in childhood: a review of human studies. Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids 2010;82:305-314.
7. Kidd PM. Omega-3 DHA and EPA for cognition, behavior, and mood: clinical findings and structural-functional synergies with cell membrane phospholipids. Altern Med Rev 2007;12:207-227.
8. Hoffman DR, Boettcher JA, Diersen-Schade DA. Toward optimizing vision and cognition in term infants by dietary docosahexaenoic and arachidonic acid supplementation: a review of randomized controlled trials. Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids 2009;81:151-158.
9. UCSB anthropologists finds high levels of omega-3 fatty acids in breast milk of Amerindian women. 2012. EurekAlert! http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2012-06/uoc--uaf060812.php. Accessed August 15, 2012.
10. Martin MA, Lassek WD, Gaulin SJ, et al. Fatty acid composition in the mature milk of Bolivian forager-horticulturalists: controlled comparisons with a US sample. Matern Child Nutr 2012;8:404-418.
11. Brenna JT, Varamini B, Jensen RG, et al. Docosahexaenoic and arachidonic acid concentrations in human breast milk worldwide. Am J Clin Nutr 2007;85:1457-1464.
12. Blasbalg TL, Hibbeln JR, Ramsden CE, et al. Changes in consumption of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in the United States during the 20th century. Am J Clin Nutr 2011.
13. Harnack K, Andersen G, Somoza V. Quantitation of alpha-linolenic acid elongation to eicosapentaenoic and docosahexaenoic acid as affected by the ratio of n6/n3 fatty acids. Nutr Metab 2009;6:8.
14. Arterburn LM, Hall EB, Oken H. Distribution, interconversion, and dose response of n-3 fatty acids in humans. Am J Clin Nutr 2006;83:1467S-1476S.
15. Fokkema MR, Brouwer DA, Hasperhoven MB, et al. Short-term supplementation of low-dose gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), or GLA plus ALA does not augment LCP omega 3 status of Dutch vegans to an appreciable extent. Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids 2000;63:287-292.
16. Rice GE, Hammitt JK, Evans JS. A probabilistic characterization of the health benefits of reducing methyl mercury intake in the United States. Environmental science & technology 2010;44:5216-5224.
17. Virtanen JK, Rissanen TH, Voutilainen S, et al. Mercury as a risk factor for cardiovascular diseases. The Journal of nutritional biochemistry 2007;18:75-85.
18. Myers RA, Worm B. Rapid worldwide depletion of predatory fish communities. Nature 2003;423:280-283.
19. Musa-Veloso K, Binns MA, Kocenas A, et al: Impact of low v. moderate intakes of long-chain n-3 fatty acids on risk of coronary heart disease. Br J Nutr 2011.
20. Thies F, Nebe-von-Caron G, Powell JR, et al. Dietary supplementation with eicosapentaenoic acid, but not with other long-chain n-3 or n-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids, decreases natural killer cell activity in healthy subjects aged >55 y. Am J Clin Nutr. 2001 Mar;73(3):539-48.
21. Linus Pauling Institute: Essential Fatty Acids. http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/infocenter/othernuts/omega3fa/


 

Risky Fish Fat Builds Brain Power - Try Dr. Fuhrman's DHA Purity Instead

Dr. Fuhrman says our modern diet is very low in omega-3 fatty acids, which raises risk of heart disease, diabetes and dementia. And now, a new study in American Journal of Clinical Nutrition claims omega-3’s from fish may be the key to staving off dementia and mental decline.

If fish does protect the aging brain, researchers believe that the benefits probably come from the omega-3 fatty acids found most abundantly in oily fish like salmon, mackerel and albacore tuna.

Lab studies show that omega-3 fats have a number of properties that could help stave off dementia -- including actions that protect nerve cells, limit inflammation and help prevent the build-up of the amyloid proteins seen in the brains of Alzheimer's patients.

These latest findings are based on surveys of 14,960 adults age 65 or older living in China, India, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Peru or Venezuela.

It’s true. Fish is high in brain-building fat, but Dr. Fuhrman points out most varieties of fish—especially tilefish and mackerel—are heavily polluted with mercury. Dr. Fuhrman’s DHA Purity is a contamination-free omega–3 fatty acid supplement, but if you must have fish, here’s Dr. Fuhrman’s opinion on it.

We are finding out each year that fish is even more polluted than we thought. Even farm raised fish not only contains mercury, but other chemicals, antibiotics and algaecides that are potentially risky for us and the environment. Of course, we have to avoid the high mercury fish such as swordfish, mackerel, pike, shark and even tuna, but the farm-raised fish is not harmless or a health food either.

Though fish is touted as a health food, because of its lower levels of saturated fats and higher omega-3, the reality is that most of the fish available in the market today is farm-raised and does not have significant amounts of omega-3, and neither should it be considered health food. Consuming too much fish has clear risks.  Instead, restrict your fish consumption and assure omega-3 adequacy with either an algae-derived DHA supplement, plus walnuts and ground flax seeds, or take a purified fish oil (certified to be contamination free). I of course would prefer people take the plant-derived DHA (cultivated for this purpose), and not harm our oceans, the wildlife, and pollute the natural habitats trying to feed the world with fish-derived omega-3.

And visit DrFuhrman.com for more on Dr. Fuhrman’s DHA Purity supplement.

Image credit: geoftheref

Q & A: Do Chicken and Shrimp Lower Cholesterol?

A lot of people think a healthy diet means grilled chicken and pasta. Nope. Try again. In his book Cholesterol Protection for Life, Dr. Fuhrman explains chicken—and even lean meats—don’t do much to lower cholesterol. In this discussion from the member center, Dr. Fuhrman explains why foods like chicken and shrimp aren’t wise choices for heart health:

Question: I remember reading a while back that chicken and shrimp are low in fat but high in cholesterol. Is that true? My friend has a heart condition and his nutritionist told him shrimp and chicken were good to eat depending on how it was cooked. I would like to convince him otherwise. First, I want to make sure I have my facts straight.

Dr. Fuhrman: Animal products, including high protein white meat chicken raise cholesterol, not just because of its saturated fat and cholesterol content, but because animal protein also raises cholesterol. Secondly, it is not just about cholesterol. You must reduce low-phytochemical and low-antioxidant foods like animal products and leave room for the high-nutrient plant foods.

Image credit: protohiro

Vegetarians Have Less Cancer Risk than Meat-Eaters -- UPDATE --

New findings in the British Journal of Cancer reveal of the 60,000 Britons studied those who were vegetarian—half of them—had a lower risk of developing cancer, compared to meat-eaters. The research followed participants for 12.2 years, with 3,350 incidences of cancer. The number of meat-ears who developed cancer was 2,204 and 829 among vegetarians—only 317 fish-eaters got cancer. Overall, vegetarians were 12% less likely to get cancer; Medical News Today reports.

But vegetarian and vegan diets most often aren’t ideal. Dr. Fuhrman points out many vegans and vegetarians are often deficient in things like omega-3’s, found in fish. Dr. Fuhrman’s DHA Purity can help. It’s derived from microalgae and supplies plenty of brain-building omega–3 fatty acids.

In related news, animal fat was shown to raise the risk of developing pancreatic cancer, while leafy green vegetables—such as kale and cabbage—help fight and protect against cancer.

UPDATE: Dr. Fuhrman had some additional thoughts: 

A vegan diet can be ideal if well designed as can be a diet with a small amount of animal products, such as one or two servings a week. A nutritarian diet is designed to reverse disease and promote longer life, and features:

  • Adequate depth and variety of nutrient-rich natural foods
  • Limited animal products, but adequate ALA/EPA/DHA
  • Adequate whole food plant fats and proteins from seeds, nuts and beans
  • High intake of green and cruciferous vegetables
  • Careful attention to supplements or lab tests to assure no deficiencies are present with genetic variation of absorption and variable needs

Image credit: Carly & Art

What Vegans May Be Missing...

Certainly a plant-based diet which minimizes animal products is the best approach for losing weight, preventing and reversing disease, and optimizing health. However, those following a vegetarian or vegan diet, and those not consuming fatty fish like salmon each week, should be aware of recent studies that suggest they may be deficient in a critical and essential nutrient, especially EPA & DHA, the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids.

Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is an omega-3 fat and is the precursor of the longer chain omega 3 fats eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). EPA and to a lesser extent DHA can be made in the body from ALA. Primary sources of these fatty acids are certain fish and seafood.

As a result, vegetarian, and especially vegan, diets provide little EPA and DHA directly. A recent study reviewed the varying dietary fat intake across vegetarians, vegans, omnivores, and semi omnivores and its impact on essential omega-3 fatty acid availability in tissues. It concluded that vegetarians were left with reduced levels of omega-3 and recommended that they consume additional direct sources of EPA and DHA, regardless of age or gender, for physical, mental and neurological health benefits.1

In addition, ALA, EPA, and DHA are especially important for the prevention of certain cancers, particularly those of the breast and colon, and possibly of the uterus and the skin, and are likely to reduce the risk of postpartum depression, manic-depressive psychosis, dementias, Parkinson's, hypertension, toxemia, diabetes, and to a certain extent, age-related macular degeneration.2

Although vegetarian diets are generally lower in total fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol than are non-vegetarian diets and may appear to offer cardiovascular health benefits due to higher intakes of antioxidants and fiber, the lack of direct EPA or DHA dietary sources may cause an adverse effect.3,4

With all of this documented research, it is not surprising that when I draw blood for fatty acid analysis on many of my patients, I find that a large percentage of individuals who do not eat fish or seafood regularly do not have optimal levels of DHA, even those eating walnuts and flaxseeds on a regular basis. I often see patients eating otherwise excellent diets with itchy dry skin, seborrheac dermatitis and other signs of DHA deficiency.

Although, there are some vegans and vegetarians regularly consuming walnuts and flaxseeds (which supply adequate ALA) may produce enough DHA on their own and may not require supplementation. However, because this issue is so imperative to their health it should be confirmed with a blood test before assuming that the conversion level is adequate. In order to assure optimal production of DHA fat, without recommending that the consumption of fish or refined fish oils, I recommend taking a vegetable sourced DHA supplement. DHA alone can deliver the same benefits of fish oil, since the intake of DHA can cause a natural retro-conversion to EPA internally.

Laboratory cultivated DHA is made from microalgae and is a pure form of DHA without environmental contamination. It is grown in the laboratory, not collected in the wild. It has no mercury or other toxins, which is a concern even for non-vegans who are cautious about eating fish or seafood.

DHA has been shown to protect against dementia, depression, inflammatory diseases, attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), allergies, and to offer significant benefits for overall cardiovascular health.

There are other problems with consuming fish oils. The main problem is that the fat turns rancid as it sits on store shelves. As a result, many people complain of burping, indigestion, a foul taste, and long lasting fish-breath. I have also observed that rancidity of this fish fat can place a stress on the liver. Patients of mine have had blood tests showing abnormal liver function when consuming fish oil in significant amounts and then have had these tests return to normal when the fish oils were stopped.

Fortunately, vegetable derived DHA, from microalgae, is an alternative. However, even algae derived DHA can become rancid if not cared for properly. We go through great lengths to deliver the purest and freshest DHA product available on the market today. My DHA Purity is manufactured under strict conditions to ensure purity. Every step of the way, from production to packaging, transportation and storage, this product is kept refrigerated and handled to ensure optimal freshness.

In conjunction with a high nutrient, plant-based diet, I advise all people take a daily DHA supplement from a clean source. Early in life, DHA is supplied via the placenta and from breast milk. While adequate DHA is particularly important for pregnant and nursing women and young children, it is beneficial for all ages!

1. Kornsteiner M, Singer I, Elmadfa I. Very low n-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acid status in Austrian vegetarians and vegans. Ann Nutr Metab. 2008; 52(1):37-47.

2. Bourre JM Dietary omega-3 fatty acids for women. Biomed Pharmacother. 2007; 61(2-3):105 12.

3. Davis BC; Kris-Etherton PM Achieving optimal essential fatty acid status in vegetarians: current knowledge and practical implications. Am J Clin Nutr. 2003; 78(3 Suppl):640S-646S

4. Lee HY; Woo J; Chen ZY; Leung SF; Peng XH Serum fatty acid, lipid profile and dietary intake of Hong Kong Chinese omnivores and vegetarians. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2000; 54(10):768-73.

Image credit: CB Photography

Pomegranates Slow Prostate Cancer

More good news for pomegranates! A new study in The Journal of Urology found pomegranate juice slows the doubling time of prostate specific antigen (PSA). PSA’s are used to track and diagnosis prostate cancer. For the study, participants, 48 men with rising PSA levels after surgery or radiotherapy, who drank one glass of pomegranate juice each day, had longer doubling times during a 56 month follow-up than men not drinking pomegranate juice; Nutra Ingredients investigates.

And last week, nutrients found pomegranates called polyphenols were shown to reduce cell inflammation, helping to prevent heart disease and diabetes. And other research revealed test subjects drinking pomegranate juice actually had better PSA scores.

In March, a report on fish linked omega-3 fatty acids with lower risk of prostate cancer. Dr. Fuhrman sells a DHA supplement that provides essential omega-3 fatty acids.

Image credit: нσвσ

Freshwater Across America Hopped Up on Drugs!

Bad news for fisherman, sampling by the Environmental Protection Agency discovered fish caught near freshwater treatment plants serving major U.S. cities, like Chicago and Philadelphia, contained residues from pharmaceuticals in them, such as medications used to treat high cholesterol, depression and high blood pressure, as well as trace amounts of soap chemicals. Even minuet concentrations of these compounds can harm aquatic life and contaminate drinking water; the Associated Press reports. 

It gets worse! Pay attention guys. All the chemicals in our environment are causing more hermaphrodites in the animal world and in human populations in the United States and Japan the number of male births is on the decline, but girl babies are on the rise. Scientists suspect female hormones from contraceptive pills reentering the water supply are to blame.

In related news, perfluorinated compounds, fluorine-containing chemicals used to make products like shampoo and dental floss may cause infertility in women. That means one thing. We all better start having sex before it’s too late. Do it for the species!

Image credit: Andy Hares

Green-News: Wednesday 2.11.09

Image credit: cotinis

Slumping Economy, Slumping Diets

Okay, no matter what side of the political fence you fall on, we can all agree, the economy is in toilet. For most of us, money is tight. And according to experts, this spells trouble for the already horrible American diet. People might become more inclined to ditch healthier foods, like fruits, vegetables, whole grains and fish, for cheaper, horrible foods, such as fast food and cereal; Reuters explains.

And previous reports have claimed up-ticks in candy sales are directly related to recession. But, you can survive hard times healthfully, if you keep your eyes open! You can find plenty of great, reduced priced produce at most supermarkets and farmers markets are a haven of affordable fruits and veggies.

Japan Only Produces 40% of the Food it Consumes...

Japan’s got a problem. They import 60% of their food. Leaving local farmers in the dust, but that’s just part of the problem. The food they’re importing is bad. The Japanese used to eat a lot of fish and vegetables, but now they’re consuming more meat, fat and oil, giving way to an unhealthy population.

So, Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries is imploring citizens to reexamine their lifestyle and make smarter choices. Saying if people demand more vegetables and return to their dietary roots, this will help enliven the struggling agricultural community and improve health, i.e. restoring balance.

And it must be a good idea. Because all the little people in the video are bopping to the music!

Via EarthFirst.