Monthly Archives: April 2006

Fish Oil: The Antidote for Violent Crime?

Fish Oil:  The Antidote for Violent Crime? Can you reduce criminal behavior with food?

Competency # 13 Fats

Reference: New York Times, November 20, 2005

Several months back we reported on a study from Great Britain showing that pregnant women who ate the most fish had children born who had higher IQs and lower antisocial behaviors when measured up to 5 years later.  We suggested then that the avoidance of fish during pregnancy was a bad idea, even though it’s the current recommendation in America because of fears of mercury.  The risk of mercury damage is one in millions whereas the risk of IQ loss is 7%.

Let’s build on that idea.  We do know your brain is 40% omega fatty acids.  That’s a crucial ingredient in huge amounts.  We also know that our modern diet is horribly deficient in all sources of omega fatty acids.  We’ve processed out all the omega threes in our modern industrial food production processes because omega threes spoil rapidly.  For long time readers of this column, you have seen my admonition to eat ground flax seed on a daily basis as that is a wonderful source of omega three fatty acids. Other good sources are almonds, walnuts lots of fish.

Here is more preliminary research, reported in the New York Times about fish oil.  Criminals in prisons are there for violent/antisocial behavior of some kind.  Diets in prisons are not known for their cuisine.  The NYT found a study by Dr. Joseph Hibbeln published back in 2001 correlating the intake of omega fatty acids and violent criminal behavior.  A researcher named Bernard Gesch at Oxford liked that idea.  He tested 231 volunteers in British prisons and conducted a blinded study in which half got omega fatty acid supplements, the others placebo.  The omega group’s violent behavior as measured by assaults and other prison violations dropped 30%.  That has prompted studies to start in Norway and Holland.

Of course, your behavior is controlled by your brain.  Violent behavior is often the product of impulsive, emotion-driven, sudden action.  Can poor nutrition be part of that?  If this sort of research we see with pregnant women and prisoners can continue to be validated, it adds to the body of evidence that is clearly accepting that our bodies are desperate for more omega fatty acids.  The American Heart Association finds the evidence so compelling (40% reduction in sudden death with 2 fish servings a week) that eating more fish is part of our mainstream teaching.  If we do it for our hearts, how about for our brains and our emotions.  If we do it for ourselves, shouldn’t we think about what we are doing in our prisons.  If in our prisons, why not in our schools?  The nutrition in our schools isn’t a far sight better.

WWW: What will work for me?  This isn’t new.  I take at least one fish oil and one flax seed oil tablet a day.  And I eat two heaping tablespoons of flax seed a day on my whole grain cereal.  An almond or two in my snack mix.  Think about what you are doing for your brains when you eat your omega threes.  Consider how mellow you will be when the cop pulls you over, when the teen comes in at 2 am, when the dog pukes on your carpet….

Ginger and Chilies: Nutritional Dynamite!

Ginger and Chilies:  Nutritional Dynamite!

Competency :  # 5, 14    What you Should Eat AND Superfoods

Reference: American Association for Cancer Research Meeting.  Rebecca Liu, MD, Dept of Ob Gyn and U of Michigan  April 4, 2006;  Holistic Reference:  Andrew Weil has always recommended ginger and turmeric as the two supplements one should take beyond a multivitamin every day.  (This is the type of evidence he has cited.)

You may have heard spread all over the news last week about ginger and how it kills off ovarian cancer.  It was released at the American Association of Cancer Research with a study out of the University of Michigan.  So, this is unpublished data.  The researchers did the study by taking cancer cells growing in a Petri dish and pouring a solution of ginger over them.  The cancer cells died at a rate that exceeded the standard chemotherapy rates: from cis-platinum.  The mechanism of cell death was unique.  Instead of being a poison that killed certain processes in the cell, the standard method of chemotherapy, it caused the cells to go through two processes that happen in normal cells:  apoptosis and autophagy.  These are fancy terms for what your cells do normally in normal conditions.  Apoptosis is the natural cell death that occurs when a cell runs out its natural life course.  Autophagy is the digestion of itself that occurs when apoptosis happens.

Near and dear to my heart, chilies do the same thing to pancreas cancer cells in mice.  Capciacin causes apotosis of cancer cells without any harm to normal pancreas cells that usually die off when they complete their life cycle.  The mice had their pancreas cancers shrink in size significantly in response to capsiasin, the compound in chilies that make them hot and spicy.  That makes two spicy foods that work their magic through a whole new means of manipulating cancer cells.

This is unique for cancer therapy.  It is a new strategy.  It makes the cancer cells act like normal cells.  That is contrary to a fundamental premise of cancer.  Cancer cells grow uncontrollably and never die off.   They just keep multiplying and spreading. Chemotherapy drugs might slow them down for a while, but after a while the cancer becomes resistant to the chemotherapy.  Now we have a new strategy to explore.  And if it’s good for you AFTER you get the cancer, it might also be good for you before you get the cancer.  Does it prevent cancer?  No proof.  No trials.

What this means is that the foods we eat may have very powerful effects on our bodies that we haven’t learned how to measure yet, but which may be strategies for some very dangerous cancers.  Pancreatic and ovarian cancers are unique in that they are very hard to find before they become incurable.  Pancreatic cancer kills 31,000 Americans a year.  Ovarian cancer, 16,000.  The researchers did note that the ginger seemed to also reduce the inflammation that was associated with the development of the cancer, but could not elaborate any further on the mechanisms.  They have found very early suggestions that cur cumin (the spice in turmeric) and revasterol (red wine) may have similar effects.  Apoptosis: programmed cell death.  AKA: cellular dynamite.

WWW: What will work for me.  This sounds like Thai food to me: or Chinese, or Indian.  Ginger and chilies are intrinsic parts of many ethnic foods.  This is a great reason to make more stir-fry at home.  Learn to make curry and stir fry Chinese.  Use more ginger.  You can buy candied ginger now too.  I’m not so good at buying supplements.

Endocannabinoids: Part III, What the Blocking Drugs Might Do

Endocannabinoids:  Part III,  What the Blocking Drugs Might Do

Competency # 1 RISK

Reference: Clin Cornerstone. 2006;8 Suppl 4:S24-35

In part I and II, we learned that the endocannabinoid system, (ECS) has a lot to do with our appetite.  The ECS system has a major presence in our brains, in our intestines and in our fat cells. The ECS system seems to be all intertwined with the metabolic syndrome which is the combination of factors that include being slightly overweight, having slightly elevated blood pressure, lipids, inflammatory markers and sugar and having a much higher risk for vascular disease.  We believe the “reason” for the ECS system is that it may be part of our body’s ability to respond to stressful situations with relaxation, intake of food, storage of calories.  All that is good, in moderation.  In a world of excess calories, it all runs amuck.

There is good science to show that ECS activation makes appetite and food intake go up.   Turning it on makes you eat.  What does turning it off do?   What happens when you get a blocking drug?  These blocking drugs are coming later this year.  Here is what happens.  Preliminary research shows that one of the ECS blockers, rimonabant does the following:  (American Heart Association Meeting, New Orleans 2004, on 3045 patients)

At one year:  9% sustained weight loss.  9% decrease in waist circumference.  25% increase in HDLs (the good cholesterol), 10% reduction in LDLs.   That’s all great data.  (% weight loss for me would be 18 pounds.  I’ve struggled for 6 months now to lose 4 pounds, only to gain it back in a weekend of riotous living.   Grrrrrr.

Is this controversial?  You bet.  I’m sure any of us can out eat any drug given to us to try and make us lose weight.  But the negative effects of cycling up and down with unsuccessful weight loss are possibly worse.  Diet, exercise and avoiding the 9:30 pm ice cream are probably the mainstay of our efforts.  But you need to know about these drugs.  They may offer a dramatically new and reasonable approach where everything else has failed.

A word of caution: the last time we had a wonder weight loss drug, we ended up with a lot of folks with damaged heart valves.  I want to watch and see where this goes before I jump on board.  What is new is that we now understand the physiology.  Knowing the big picture will allow us to judge with sensible insight how this story unfolds.  And I believe there will be a nitch.  It may not be rimonabant, but there are others in the pipeline.  And you will be hearing more about it.

So:  the ECS system.  You heard it first on “News in Nutrition”