Monthly Archives: April 2009

Omega Fatty Acids #3: What’s the Proof?

Omega Fatty Acids #3:  What’s the Proof?

Competency # 13  Fats

Reference: Minireview, Center for Genetics, Nutr and Health, 2008

All right, we are clearly out of balance in our diets in the last 150 years.  A whole raft of new illnesses have shown up that we haven’t seen before.  Is that because we are just living longer and have the ability to diagnose with modern testing, or are these illnesses more common on account of the changes in our environment and in our food?

Key Concept #7:  Our food is our medicine.  We take a pill with great reverence and with clear intent.  We endow it with the ability to heal a malady.  We don’t think of the taste.   Our food, however, we eat because we are hungry and it tastes good.  Food cures the malady called hunger.  We don’t think of the chemical reactions our food causes, or the mix of internal messages and signals that occur.  Omega fatty acids bridge that gap.  Because we can’t make them ourselves, they really are critical to our healthy survival.  The amount we eat, and the balance of what we eat matters.  Our food (omega fat) is our medicine.  Indigenous societies have known that for centuries.  What are fascinating are the repeated findings that primitive societies have always fed their newborns and children the highest quality foods that contain the most essential omega fats.  For example, did you know that the Inuit catch a lot of fish that they eat their fish boiled?   What part would you suppose they set aside as a treat for their children?  The heads.    And why?  The brains and eyeballs have omega fats.  They didn’t know the science, but they knew and observed their children thrived when they ate them.  Can you remember your grandma feeding you cod liver oil?   How about fish heads?

The scientific evidence for omega fats is beginning to accumulate.  But it’s messy and not as clear as the strong advocates would like it to be.   Heart disease may be the biggest target where the best evidence has been accumulated.  Comparing a typical Swedish diet with a 5:1 ratio of omega 6s to omega-3s with the Mediterranean Diet, ratio 2:1, has shown a decrease in vascular endothelial growth factor, platelets and white cells.   Zampelas has shown that C-reactive protein goes to normal when you have a 1:1 ratio.  Weber has shown that omega 6:3 ratio in platelets had a direct relationship to mortality from cardiovascular disease.  And Freese has shown that platelets take up omega-3s and their adhesiveness changes as the ratio of 6:3 comes down.

One clear clinical study that dramatically reduced heart disease 70% was the Lyon Heart Study.  Their ratio was 4:1.  They achieved that by substituting olive oil for corn oil.  Olive oil has very low omega-6 (8%).  Corn oil is 60% omega-6.  The GISSI trial from Italy gave an extra 850 mg of omega-3 fatty acids to traditional Italian diet.  The extra omega-3 group had a 45% decrease in sudden death.  They didn’t measure blood levels.

WWW: What will work for me?  Sounds like a 4:1 ratio is readily achievable and has huge benefits.  If I’m doing nothing right now but eating what’s put in front of me, I’m at 15:1 living in America.  I can change and it sounds like the evidence is starting to accumulate.   Next week:  The nitty-gritty on how to get to balance.

Omega Fatty Acids #2: Getting to Balance

Omega Fatty Acids #2:  Getting to Balance

Competency # 13  Fats

Reference: Minireview, Center for Genetics, Nutr and Health, 2008

Okay, so we can’t make our own omega fatty acids and our diet has changed dramatically in the last 150 years.  The omega-3 family used to be balanced by the omega-6 family in a ratio of about 1: 1.  Now it’s 15:1.  Why is that a problem?

The picture of why the imbalance may be a problem is continuing to evolve.  It requires knowing a few more basic facts.  Here is part two of the story.

Key Concept # 4:  Your body uses omega fatty acids as precursors to a whole bunch of hormones called eicosinoids.  We are most familiar with the prostaglandin family of eicosinoids.   Prostaglandins are very short-lived little molecules that turn on smooth muscle spasms and are associated with inflammation.  But there are many more eicosinoids that act like hormones, produced and consumed locally in millionths of a second.  The omega-3 family of eicosinoids is essentially anti-inflammatory.  The omega-6 family is all essentially inflammatory.  They have opposite actions to each other.  When we eat lots and lots of omega-6 fats (corn oil and many vegetable oils) we force the production of more inflammatory hormones.  When the amount of anti-inflammatory hormones declines (less omega-3s) and inflammatory rises (more omega-6s) our bodies are set ups for diseases of inflammation.  Indeed, you can show that our dietary imbalance makes our blood clot easier, our platelets get stickier, our white cells more reactive.  Doesn’t that sound like a heart attack waiting to happen?  Balancing may really be important.

Key Concept #5:  Omega fatty acids are what your brain is made of.  Our brains are incredibly complicated computers.  But the wires and the hardware come down to membranes with signaling proteins in them.  Those membranes are made up of omega fatty acids.  If you take the total weight of all the omega fatty acids in your brains, they make up 40% of your brain.  (There are actually many different omega-3s and many different omega-6s)  Of that, 40% should be omega-3 and 60% should be omega-6.  That’s the balance we find in indigenous societies who eat a diet balanced in omega fats.   Not in America.  In America, we find our brains have shifted their content and ratio of omega fats.  Instead of 40:60, we have 20:80 because of the decline in omega-3 and the rise of omega-6.  We really are what we eat.

Key Concept # 6:  Omega fats turn on our genes.  There is accumulating evidence that omega-3 and omega-6 fats turn on gene expression.  If that were so, then changing the balance in our diet, which is what we have done in the last 150 years, could account for some of the diseases that have shown up in the last 150 years that we didn’t have before.  That proof does not exist yet, but recall our study that we reported a few months back in which pregnant mothers taking a gram of fish oil a day reduced the rate of asthma in their children 64%.  That could only be gene expression at work.

WWW.  What will work of me?  Okay, show me the evidence! I had never heard of this before.  I need proof.    Now I really want to learn how to get to balance.   Do I need to?

The Savannah Principle: Our Pleistocene Bodies in a Plasticene World

The Savannah Principle:  Our Pleistocene Bodies in a Plasticene World

Competency # 20 Lifestyles of the Long Lived

Reference: Why Beautiful People Have More Daughters by Alan S. Miller

The human species started migrating out of Africa about 70,000 years ago at which time there were about 5,000 of us living in small tribes made up of maybe 150 individuals.  We were spread out over Sudan, Ethiopia, Uganda and Somalia.  The Human Genome Project traces maximal genetic diversity back to this area, suggesting that “Primeval Eve” lived somewhere close to Western Ethiopia.  The primeval garden didn’t have much of what we call fruits and vegetables today.  Mostly it was wildebeest, antelope and smaller mammals…and ants, beetles and a whole variety of now unused roots, leaves, wild figs, grasses.  Scrambling for food may not have been difficult all the time, but dry seasons and climate changes over millennia shaped us to survive on the edge of starvation, always looking for the next reliable food source.  If one is to understand our basic instinctual eating behaviors, we need to understand that we were designed to always be walking and looking for food.  We needed to be living in full sunshine, eating tons of fiber, eating frequent meat, feasting whenever we could, sharing with our tribal mates and cooperating on the hunt for food.  The Savannah Principle: you fast, you hunger, you hunt, you find, you kill, you share, you eat.

Our tongues and our metabolism evolved to adapt to feast or famine.  Much of our food was very high fiber, so we spent a lot of time chewing and our large dense molars prove it.  In fact, our wisdom teeth grow in at an angle, not to keep oral surgeons fully employed, but to push our other teeth forward as they wore out.  When we found certain flavors, we gorged.  Honey was sweet, as were ripe fruits.  If Grandma Eve found a ripe fruit tree, the tribe gorged on it until it was gone.  Meat was another flavor that was also on our tongues.  You run down a gazelle and everyone gorges.  When we had a feast, our bodies evolved to secrete insulin to push all the extra calories into storage as fat.  Insulin evolved as our storage hormone.  We must have had meat frequently enough, because all our vitamins are contained in meat.  There was no penalty to our bodies to lose the ability to make those vitamins, because we ate meat frequently enough to get all the vitamins we needed.  We did not get our vitamins through our fruits, except vitamin C.  And, you don’t need C if you don’t have any carbohydrates.  C is only needed to digest carbohydrates.  (Those British “Limeys” were fed dry flour biscuits and salt beef.  They needed lots of C not to get scurvy).  We didn’t learn to grow grains until humans settled around the Black Sea and started harvesting emmer wheat around 10-12,000 years ago.  Corn and potatoes evolved separately in the new world, probably not far off that time line.   Switching to a diet of mostly grains meant we had to also start eating more fruits and vegetables to get adequate C.

WWW.  What will work for me?  So, here we are 10,000 years later sitting next to our microwaves and our fridges.   We have Savannah bodies, designed for the Pleistocene, living a twenty-first century lifestyle.   Much of what we are learning is getting back to the premise that our metabolism was set to thrive 10,000 years ago.  Before we started messing with it.  More walking, more fiber, ………

Eat a tempting apple before lunch

Eve Knew How to Make a Really Good Meal!  Eat a tempting apple before lunch

Competency # 5  The Way to Eat

Reference: Appetite April 2009 52 p 416  Flood-Obbagy  and Barbara Rolls

Eating is a very complex process.  We know that eating our calories as whole foods makes us feel fuller than drinking our calories.  It has been stated in many forums that the calories you drink are not registered in your brain as calories and this prevents you from feeling full.  This has all sorts of ramifications for us.  What about your subsequent appetite?  Has there ever been any good research to show us what happens after you eat a piece of fruit?  Not till now.  This is a fascinating story that has changed my behavior a lot.  I like this.

The Food and Nutrition Team at Penn State took 58 random volunteer adults for a meal once a week over 5 weeks.  Each volunteer got a precise “preload” of calories weighing exactly 226 grams with 125 calories in it.  That is the equivalent of one really nice apple.  After waiting 15 minutes, they were allowed to eat whatever they wanted for the subsequent meal.

The findings were fascinating.  Eating a whole, solid apple resulted in a 15% reduction of calorie intake.   That is a 62-calorie reduction for the entire meal. That would be interesting enough by itself.  You can lose weight by having an apple 15 minutes before a meal!  (62 calories a day is 1800 calories a month or 6 pounds a year.)

The most interesting part came when they changed the apple into applesauce with the same weight, calories, rate of ingestion, timing, group of people and open meal afterwards.  Compared to applesauce, eating a solid apple prior to the meal resulted in eating 91 calories less overall.   Compared to juice, it was 150 calories less overall.  Applesauce reduced total meal calorie consumption a tiny bit, compared to juice which had virtually no reduction in calories.   This included apple juice with fiber added back into it.  Juicing an apple with all its fiber in it so that it becomes a drinkable product means you erase the positive effect of eating a whole apple before a meal.   This study did show that the drinkers did compensate for their calories in the meal, but they did not reduce their total overall calories like eating a whole apple did.  It’s interesting that juice, with or without fiber had the same effect.  Being liquid just doesn’t register in your brain, no matter the fiber content.

This suggests that our brains are quite complex and that part of a meal is the actual process of eating it.  Chewing our food makes a difference in how much food we eat.  Stretching it out over time makes a difference.  The waiting of 15 minutes before the meal may have been part of the impact.  We call that part the cephalic phase during which your body starts to get ready to digest and process food.  Managing your cephalic phase sounds like heavy science.  Maybe it’s only 225 grams of one good apple!   Eve had it down pat!

WWW. What will work for me.  Well, my story is my struggle with my belt buckle and my weight. If I can control my weight, many good things happen.  I love apples.  I’m going to try this, one apple, fifteen minutes before dinner.  I’m going to sit and enjoy it, and then set the table and sit down and eat the rest of my meal.

Omega Fatty Acids: #1 Getting to Balance

Omega Fatty Acids: #1  Getting to Balance

Competency # 13  Fats

Reference: Minireview, Center for Genetics, Nutr and Health, 2008

What on earth are omega fatty acids?  What is the difference between omega-3s and omega-6s?  Where can I get them?  Why are they important?   We all need to know the answers to these questions.  Omega fatty acids might be one of your most important food types.  Getting to balance is a theory suggesting that many of our diseases of modern day medicine have their root in the lack of balance.  Could that be true?  Let’s explore the evidence.  I suspect this is the beginning of a very interesting story that will continue to unfold.

First of all, what are they?  Key Concept #1:  Omega fatty acids are otherwise referred to as PUFAs (Poly Unsaturated Fatty Acids).  They have many unsaturated double bonds.  Regular fats that make up your cell walls are fully saturated, like long and straight pencils.   A box of pencils packs tightly and firmly.  They have no “double bonds” in their carbon skeleton.  A double bond makes the fat unsaturated and bent.  Many double bonds make it “poly” unsaturated and really bent.    When you get to five double bonds the fatty acid is crooked as a corkscrew.  When you add those bent shapes to a membrane, you mess up the orderly straight structure.  Like adding a bent nail to a box of pencils, the pencils no longer pack tightly.  Instead they become more fluid and roll around a lot.   As an example: beef suet is saturated fats all lined up in a row.  It’s solid at room temperature.  Corn oil, a solution of omega-6 fatty acids, is liquid at room temperature because all the bent molecules make the molecules roll off each other and flow easily.

Where do we get omega fatty acids?.  Key Concept # 2: You have to get them from your diet and your diet only.   You can’t make them.  Oh dear.  You can make your own proteins based on your DNA patterns and the meat you eat.  Your body digests the protein down to its little pieces called amino acids, and you reassemble those amino acids into your own proteins.  Same thing happens with sugars and saturated fats.  But omega fats play a unique little niche role.  You can’t make your own.  You depend on your diet to get them in adequate amounts.  Like vitamins, you depend on an outside source.  Where is that source?  Green plants only.  In the ocean, blue green algae are eaten by fish.  On land, grass is eaten by animals.

Key Concept # 3: Our diet in the last 150 years has changed dramatically.  Throughout human history, we ate a diet that had 3-7% of our calories coming from omega fatty acids.  The omega-3 family was balanced by the omega-6 family in a ratio of about 1: 1.    Because we no longer eat meat raised on grass (a great source of omega-3) our meat has changed, and because we get abundant omega-6s in the form of cheap, mass produced vegetable oil, (a great source of omega- 6s,) our dietary ratio has changed dramatically.   Instead of 1:1 ratio of omega-6 to omega-3, our current ratio is now about 15:1.  As the “junk food” in your diet increases, your ratio increases.  Some folks have a 50:1 ratio.

WWW: What will work for me.  I’m thinking about how much fried food and vegetable oil I eat.  I’m trying to learn whether a balance is important.  I think it is.

Life Expectancy in America is Starting to Go Down!

Life Expectancy in America is Starting to Go Down!

Competency # 20  Lifestyles of the Long Lived

Reference: PLOS Medicine,  April 22, 2008 Ezzati et al, Harvard School of Public Health

Answering Reference:  Arch Internal Medicine: April 14th, 2008 DASH Diet and Risk of Coronary Artery Disease.

This is very sad.  Yesterday’s headline!  For the first time in American history, we have a decline in mortality starting to show in America, particularly for women and particularly in the south.  Mortality increases have been starting to show because of increased smoking in women, increased obesity in everybody and the subsequent increases in high blood pressure and diabetes.  America has now slipped into 47th internationally, not a very impressive track record.  Rather than living longer than our parents, we are now in the potential early stages of children not living as long as their parents.  This phenomenon has been noted in other societies when they have had sudden increases in obesity.  Notably, Okinawa was one small laboratory example when the population of young Okinawans that started working on the American navy base adopted American eating habits and started getting obese, having heart disease, and dying younger than their parents.

And the answer is right before us.  Just this week too, in the prestigious journal, Archives of Internal Medicine, is the result of a 24-year prospective study, also from Harvard following the results of the DASH diet.  Using data from the Nurses study, and prospectively following the 89,000 nurses that they followed at that point (they are up to some 130,000 now), Dr. Hu and team showed pretty impressive results.  Their findings, after 7 separate data collection points for each person over those 24 years, showed that women who followed the DASH diet the most closely, had about a 34 % reduction in fatal heart attack and 17 % reduction for stroke.  They also had the ability to look at markers of inflammation in their blood.  Interleukin 6 and C-reactive protein correlated directly with improvement in cardiac outcome.  The lower the level of inflammation, the better off participants were.

This is a fancy way of saying more fruits and vegetables really make a difference.  Let me say that again.  This is the strongest evidence to date in the medical literature.  MORE fruits and vegetables really make a difference.  The DASH Diet and its subsequent advances (OMNI Heart) should be the foundation of what we make as our nutrition lifestyle choices.  Of 89,000 American women, these are the ones living longer.  Not smoking, exercising more, eating better food, controlling weight. (One glass of wine.)

WWW:  What will Work for Me?  DASH is Dietary Alternatives to Suppress Hypertension.  Or, if you want to sound learned and scientific, reduce your C-reactive protein and interleukin 6.  It’s simple:  7-9 servings a day of fruits and vegetables is the core.  ½ cup equals a serving, so a banana counts for two.  I’m up to 5 so far today.  I need four for supper.  How about a beautiful apple while I watch CSI tonight.   Count, count, count.   Every day counts.  Put in one good day at a time and talk to me in 24 years.  We’ll still be here.