Monthly Archives: January 2011

Brain Health Part 2 – Debbie Downer Strikes Back

Brain Health Part 2 – Debbie Downer Strikes Back

Reference:  Brain Building Nutrition by Michael Schmidt Third Edition

What can you do to keep a healthy brain?  First, repeat after me what you have to avoid from last week.  Remember?  No tobacco.  Cut the alcohol to one drink a day.  Trans fats are poison! (No French fries).  Saturated fat isn’t much better.  Processed meats don’t get any brownie points.  Whoa on sugar!  Down to one ounce a day, max.  White bread has gotta go.  MSG is a disaster.  Look at the label for hydrolyzed vegetable protein, yeast extract, or anything with glutamate in it.  Most soups from the store, even those labeled NO MSG are full of it.  Don’t!  And finally, yes, finally, you stopped getting the blue stuff for your sweetener didn’t you?  And did you look at the can of diet soda to see if it had any in it.   And of course, you aren’t intentionally playing with lead any more.  It’s just that you don’t know what’s in your lipstick.

Well, this makes for a real Debbie Downer Date.  Nothing fun left.  That’s actually not quite true.  There is just a ton of stuff out there that is delicious food, good for you, easy to find.  We just have to start thinking differently as we make changes in our life style and patterns.

But first, the big picture.  It’s all about the FAT.  The RIGHT Fat.  We need to stop thinking simplistically about fat as being bad because it’s high calorie.  We have to get some nuance to the idea that fat is what our brains are all about.  You have to have the right fat.  Our brains are mostly fat.  That’s the key.  And our diets have changed dramatically in the last 100 years.  Our meat used to have omega fatty acids in them that was good for our brains.  Beef, raised on grass, is about the same as bison or deer or elk in regard to its fat content.  They are about 7 % fat content, of which a large portion is omega fatty acid (good for your brain, just like salmon).  When you raise a cow, or deer, or elk or bison on corn and beans, they get a different fat in their meat, just like we do when we raise ourselves on corn and beans (and sugar and soda and fries).  They turn their meat into a product that still has the exact same protein.  That doesn’t change.  But the fat changes from omega fatty acid to saturated fat.  Your brain wants the omega fats, not the saturated fat.  Your brain is about 40% by dry weight DHA and EPA, the two dominant omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil.  But fish oil is simply a natural food chain product starting with green algae in the ocean that gets eaten by little tiny fish, that get eaten by bigger fish.  Green plants make DHA and EPA, whether in the ocean or on land.  Our ancestors used to eat either those green plants, or the animals that ate them.  And our brains are made from those healthy, essential fats.

What’s happened in America isn’t just the loss of the omega-3 fats but a flood of omega-6s.  Omega 6 fats are the precursors to inflammatory signaling compounds called eicosinoids.  They come from vegetable oils like corn oil, soybean oil etc.  Omega-3’s are the precursors to the anti-inflammatory signaling eicosinoids.  It stands to reason that you may want more anti-inflammatory products when the chronic diseases we all suffer from are based on inflammation.

WWW.  What will work for me?  I’m trying to change my eating habits to avoid vegetable oils and add omega three fats.  There is evidence that those folks who take at least a gram a day of fish oil have a brain that’s 1-2% larger than those who don’t.  Want a bigger brain or a smaller one?  I’m opting for the bigger helping.  I’ve bought a grass raised cow from a farmer.  It’s taking a year for it to grow.  It will cost me about $ 3 a pound if I do all the delivery, pick up and sorting out.  Sounds like a bargain for my brain.  Can you buy local?  Get together with friends. Help a Wisconsin organic farmer make a local living.

Brain Health Part 1

Brain Health Part 1

Competency:  Brain Health!

As I get older, there are a few things I don’t want to get older.  I want my joints to work so that I can get around.  I want my eyes to work so that I can see.  I want my brain to work so I can remember.  But we have a problem.  Getting older in America means you are going to get Alzheimer’s.  If you live to age 90, you have something on the order of 50% risk of getting Alzheimer’s.  America has a wave of dementia coming down the way, and we are all sitting on the beach.  It’s an epidemic I don’t want to be part of.  I’m really interested in how I can keep my brain healthy, so I want to start to explore the emerging science of brain health.

To make order of my exploration, I want to first talk about what we shouldn’t do.  We now know there are just lots of things our brain would prefer we didn’t expose it to.  First and foremost, the inflammation and irritation that comes along with cigarettes is  just a disaster.  The cells that protect each brain cell are called glial cells.   They are sort of like baby sitters for brain cells, covering them, protecting them, shielding them.  When they get mad and get inflamed, they damage the brain cell underneath.  Cigarettes are right up there as noxious.  Whew.  A freebe.  I don’t smoke.  But there’s much more.

Mercury, lead, cadmium and arsenic make up a toxic handful of heavy metals that damage brain cells.  We used to get lead exposure from gasoline.  Now lead comes from older house-paint flaking off and materials made below our protection standards.  (Toys from China.  Lipsticks…) Even Nigerian chocolate (where 70% of the world’s cocoa is grown and where you can still buy leaded gasoline) has lead contamination.  Arsenic comes off of the green wood we make our decks with.  Yup, that nice kid’s playground wood: filled with arsenic.  Mercury is in coal so coal fired power plants put it in the air.  And then there are old filings from the 60s and 70s with mercury content in them.  Cadmium comes from cigarettes.   We all have variable heavy metal exposure not seen before in human history.  Some of it rises to the level of toxicity.   I just measured my toxic levels.  It’s not pretty.

But more common to all of us are everyday poisons like fake fats that create a low level of irritation and inflammation.  Trans fats and saturated fats are everywhere.  They don’t cause immediate noticeable damage but they do set off inflammation in our arteries and they make our membranes function less smoothly.  If your arteries are inflamed your brain is too.

What about glutamate?  There is all sorts of controversy about glutamate because of MSG.  Monosodium glutamate came to America in the 1960s and its consumption continues to skyrocket.  Sort of on the same order as our brain diseases of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and ALS.   We like MSG because it makes food taste so good.  The theory is that it causes excitatory cells to fire off, and fire and fire and fire, and then roll over and die.    In experimental animal models exposed to the amount of MSG we have in our diet we can show the same sort of damage that shows up in Alzheimer’s.   Not proven yet, but sure a lot of disturbing literature.

WWW.  What will work for me.  That’s the short starter list.  Avoid cigarettes and smoking.  Think about not using green pressure treated wood for surfaces you walk on.  Read food labels and avoid MSG and all of its fake names like “hydrolyzed vegetable protein”.  We didn’t even get to fake sweeteners.  There is a lot you can do to help your brain.  We’ll get to that.

Vitamin D Toxicity

Vitamin D Toxicity

Reference: Southern Medical Journal 102(7):765 (2009)

Competency:  Vitamin D

With all the brouhaha about the IOM information about D, folks have asked what is the toxicity?  As best we know, not much.  But here is the real scoop as I can see it.  First of all, the case study I reference above is about a woman who mistakenly took 150,000 IU a day for some 28 years without any toxicity.   The article has a very nice discussion about possible mechanisms how that happened.  I’ve personally witnessed someone taking 1,000,000 IU in one dose with no apparent symptoms.  And I personally know of someone who took 50,000 IU a day for over a year with no symptoms.  But those are just anecdotes and have to be notched as interesting but not enough.

Hector DeLuca, the giant in Vitamin D from Madison, who did the research on toxicity for the IOM stated on Public Radio that he could find no evidence of toxicity below 14,000 IU a day, and that toxicity was  a mild elevation in calcium.  Most of the literature that I’ve read states that you get no evidence of toxicity until you get to about 40,000 IU a day.  That’s one mg.

What the IOM is nervous about are the few case reports of associations between higher D levels and cancer.  That’s not toxicity per se, but the association is there.  Now, if we can use association studies to change our behavior, something the IOM strictly said they would not do and would only use randomized controlled trials, there are about 10,000 association studies showing beneficial effects of Vit D to the two or three that show some risk.  The ones that catch my eye are the situations in which heart disease, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, autoimmune, birth outcome, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, and many other rates of cancer drop dramatically with higher D levels.  There are many association studies showing that folks live longer when their D level is higher.   From lymphoma to melanoma, there are reports of folks living longer with higher D levels.  Melanoma, the archetype of sun exposure cancer, has a report in which patients with melanoma who cheated and went out in the sun against their doctors’ advice, lived longer than those who stayed indoors.

What’s a person to do?  I will step out and conjecture wildly.  I have to note that the majority of folks on the panel had something to do with bones.  They were all from academic centers where they were involved in research on osteoporosis.  Without any proof or evidence, I have to wonder who funds their research.   And if its funded by companies who make osteoporosis drugs, would they be interested in losing their funding by advocating for Vit D instead of their expensive drugs.  That’s a horrible allegation without any evidence.  It’s just a conjecture.  But it explains their discordant advice in a world confusing political forces, and their unexplained caution.  “When you see something odd, follow the money and you will find the explanation.”  The rest of the wellness world has essentially written the IOM off as being strangely and excessively cautious.  I take a more sunny approach.  They doubled their prior cautious advice and raised the safe limit to 4000 IU.  Pretty good!

WWW What will work for me.  Heck, 4000 IU will get most folks blood levels to about 50 ng.  That’s about what you would get to with 5 minutes of sunshine a day in shorts and T-shirt.  So, unless we are forbidden to go out in the sun for 5 minutes, I’m not changing anything with the amount of D I’m taking.  I want to survive my heart attack, my stroke, delay my Alzheimer’s, and avoid my influenza…  I’ll take on the risk of slightly higher cancer for my pancreas and make up for it by eating more fiber.

Raising the Salad Bar – a Book Review

Failed Your First Resolution Yet?

Reference:  Raising the Salad Bar by Catherine Walters (Lake Isle Press, NY 2007)

Competency:  Eating Right

“It’s New Years.  I can tell by looking at you that you have already fallen off the wagon.  You look like those five pounds you wanted to lose just turned into 8.”  So Garrison Keillor quipped on Prairie Home Companion.  I laughed.  Sort of.  Except that it was true.  For me at least.  You too?

Want to lose weight?  You have to find food you like that is healthy and hits the right spot of being anti-inflammatory, tasty, interesting and not too many calories.  The resolution to lose weight by eating less and exercising more just doesn’t do it for me.  And the evidence from the research world shows that it doesn’t do it for the majority of us either.  But you can lose weight.  It is possible. In fact, it is surprisingly possible if you start from the bottom up.  That means you have to first understand the core physiology of how you put on weight.  Let’s dive down to the molecular level.  The evidence seems to point to inflammation coming first and that inflammation is part of a vicious cycle in which you put out more insulin that forces you to pack more calories into storage.  So, start at the bottom and get rid of the inflammation.  Without inflammation you start mobilizing calories from fat stores.  That means weight loss.  How do you do that?

To rid yourself of inflammation, you need to provide your body the right fats that signal for anti-inflammatory signals.  Olive oil and omega -3 fats will do that.  But corn and soybean oil will signal for inflammation with their abundance of omega – 6 fats.   Cooking (particularly with high heat – grilling) makes for AGEs (Advanced Glycation Products) which are inflammatory so salads are raw and have few AGEs.  Fiber soaks up excreted toxins.  Salads do that.  Bright colors in onions, peppers, berries provide varieties of anti-oxidants that soak of free oxygen radicals.  Salads have few sugars or white processed carbs that set off rolling cascades of oxidation.  Assembling the perfect diet sounds like assembling a perfect salad.  How can you learn to do that?

Read this Salad Recipe book.  Catherine Walthers is a genius.  She has put in her 10,000 hours that Malcolm Gladwell in his book “Outlier” claims is needed to become an extraordinary expert.  Catherine was a personal chef on Martha’s Vineyard for 15 years, finding foods and meals that finicky eaters would eat.  Bit by bit she gravitated to making meals (salads) of a huge variety that are interesting, tasty, filled with variety and meet standards of folks who demand to not get fat.

What’s an ideal meal plan?  Filled with bright colors, dominated by vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts and good oils.  What she has assembled is just the best cookbook ever.   Read this cookbook!  It rates 5 stars.  Hundreds of salads.  Dozens of categories.  All mouthwatering and mostly home-runs on good nutrition.  And chemically aligned with your interests.  They are almost all anti-inflammatory.

WWW.  What will Work for Me?  Read this cookbook.  It is just the best.  My resolution changed from losing weight to simply making as many of these recipes as we can this year.  The weight loss will follow.  It only takes 4 hours to get your body out of inflammation.  You just have to do it every 4 hours, again and again.  And then the weight goes away, quarter ounce at a time.