Category Archives: Positive Health

Discussing Omega-3 Test Results with Health Practitioner


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As I noted in the previous post, I just got back blood test results for Omega-3. The results put me just higher than Quebec Inuit for percent Omega-3 in total HUFA (highly unsaturated fatty acids), and somewhat less than Japan and Greenland. I am pleased with the results. However, in the letter with the results is a suggestion that my “health practitioner may find” the test results useful in formulating medical or dietary advice. However, I doubt that my doctor has any knowledge at all about Omega-3, and probably would be skeptical that there are  any real benefits. If anyone has had experience with a health practitioner who seems to have demonstrated expertise in this area, feel free to comment.

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Omega-3 Improves Vision


A blue iris. A human eye.

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The entries in this blog include both reports of scientific studies, and also unsubstantiated, anecdotal reports. While I am convinced that high omega-3 intake is beneficial, it is encouraging to see positive results. My ophthalmologist recently informed me that I should have my prescription changed because my visual acuity had noticeably improved since 2 years ago. In addition, while I still had some indications of early peripheral diabetic retinopathy, that problem has improved since my exam two years previous. His comment was that, whatever I am doing, I should keep doing it.

His explanation for the problem was that diabetes can damage blood vessel walls, particularly since excess sugar thickens the blood. Reduced blood flow (particularly in small blood vessels) then causes the eye to grow new blood vessels to try to remedy the problem, thus interfering with the function of the retina.

There is no test or standard that I am aware of to measure the appropriate amount of blood viscosity, but some of the important health benefits of  omega-3s may result from their blood-thinning effect (including reduced strokes and heart attacks). Anecdotally, I can confirm that I often noticed (while using home blood glucose testing strips) that my blood viscosity varied significantly, and would be significantly thicker on some mornings. Since I have started on a high intake omega-3 intake, my blood now seems to flow consistently better.

I have already reported that my triglyceride levels are within normal, which is the main recognized benefit of omega-3 intake, an impact which occurred within a few months. Other benefits are less dramatic and take longer to become noticeable. I am certainly pleased to have improved vision, and further positive reinforcement to continue on with omega-3s.

Fish Oil Side Effects


The Doctor, by Sir Luke Fildes (1891)

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An article in the January 14, 2011 edition of the Globe & Mail (Toronto) notes that Health Canada is urging doctors to monitor patient’s use of natural health products and report side effects. The article says that “research has shown that fish oil could lower blood pressure too much in patients taking blood pressure medication. Fish oil may also slow clotting and increase bleeding risk in people who are taking other natural health products such as garlic, ginger or Panax ginseng.”

While the article presents these side effects as concerns, the article also indirectly suggests that some people taking fish oil may be potentially able to reduce the amount of blood pressure medication required, which seems like a beneficial side effect. The article is very vague about the extent of risk regarding increased bleeding, and of course, generally speaking, slower clotting can help reduce strokes and heart attacks.

The article does focus on patient education and identification of health products that are “safe”. However, I believe that doctors generally tend to ignore evidence that fish oil supplements have been shown to reduce the risk of heart attacks, lower triglycerides and blood pressure, and may well be a safer alternative to more potent prescription medications which have their own side effects.

The Omega Plan


Cover of "The Omega Plan: The Medically P...

Cover via Amazon

Review of “The Omega Plan” by Artemis Simopoulos & Jo Robinson

This book argues that Omega-3 fats, along with the antioxidants and phytochemicals in fruits and vegetables are the missing ingredients for optimal health, and that consuming significant amounts of fat is healthy as long as the harmful fats are replaced with beneficial fats. The Omega Plan suggests seven dietary guidelines, starting with eating foods rich in Omega-3s such as fatty fish, walnuts, canola oil, flaxseeds and green leafy vegetables, or take Omega-3 supplements.  Use olive oil and canola oil.  Eat seven or more servings of fruits and vegetables every day.  Eat more vegetable protein including peas, beans and nuts.  Choose lean meat and low fat milk.  Avoid oils high in omega-6, including corn, safflower, sunflower, soybean and cottonseed oils.  Reduce your intake of trans-fatty acids. The book provides useful summaries at the end of each chapter.   The book is highly recommended as a source of information about Omega-3s and their benefits, and includes a comprehensive table of the essential fatty acid content of many foods.  However, while the book is very strong on outlining the benefits of Omega-3s, the book does not make clear that some improvements in health resulting from increasing the Omega-3 ratio may have a significant lag time, especially if consumption of Omega-3s has been deficient  for many years.  In “The Queen of Fats”, the author notes that humans store up significant amounts of fat, and it may take many months of increased Omega-3 consumption to significantly alter the Omega-3 composition of the stored fat. This factor may be an argument for overcompensating for the years of deficiency by increasing the intake of Omega-3 foods as suggested by “the Omega Plan” and in addition taking fish oil supplements until the body returns to balance.
The book cites studies which indicate eating a very low fat diet can signal the body to produce fat from carbohydrates, but (since the body cannot manufacture essential fatty acids, the body instead produces saturated fat (palmitic acid) that is linked to increased heart disease.  The book hypothesizes that one major factor in the imbalance in the modern diet of Omega-6 fats to Omega-3 fats is that early humans got most of their nourishment from fish and meat, fruits and vegetables. The other two food groups (cereals/breads and dairy products) were a minor part of the Paleolithic diet. Grain based products were nonexistent until the agricultural revolution. Dairy products were virtually unknown until the domestication of animals about 10,000 years ago, (and the consumption of dairy products requires the enzyme to digest lactose).  The fact that our ancestors ate more greens and less (or no) grains, helps explain the imbalance in the modern diet. LNA (alpha-linolenic acid, parent Omega-3) is concentrated in green leafy vegetables (and a few grains such as flaxseed and canola), and LA (linoleic acid, parent Omega-6) is concentrated in seeds, beans and grains (wheat, corn, safflower and soybeans).  Reducing the amount of grains in our diet would help return to a more balanced diet.  Wild animals ate lots of greens also, and thus have high ratios of Omega-3 to Omega-6.  However, domesticated animals are usually grain fed, and thus meat from those animal sources would also have to be reduced in our diet to arrive at a diet with a better Omega-3 balance.  Many chronic diseases are related to an overproduction of Omega-6 inflammatory eicosanoids, such as asthma, allergies, psoriasis and colitis (and menstrual cramps), while Omega-3 eicosanoids have a much reduced inflammatory effect.  An Omega-3 eicosanoid reduces artery constriction, and the inflammation reduction effect also helps prevent artery inflammation, a contributor to heart attacks.  The book also suggests that consumption of monosaturated fats, (such as olive oil) will help lower LDL cholesterol, which is a heart attack risk factor.  With regard to cancer, eating high amounts of fruits and vegetables lowers the risk of cancer, and a diet low in Omega-6 and high in Omega-3 reduces cancer risk.  An improved Omega-3 balance increases insulin sensitivity.  The brain has a high DHA content (an Omega-3 fat) and DHA improves brain function and low levels of DHA are linked to depression.  An improved Omega-3 balance lowers the risk and lessens the severity of inflammatory and autoimune disorders.  The last half of the book provides shopping and recipe and meal plan suggestions to put into practice the seven dietary guidelines mentioned at the beginning of the book.
The analysis of the Paleolithic diet in “The Omega Plan” is contrasted with the suggestion in “Nourishing Traditions” by Sally Fallon, that the problem is that our ancestors ate fruits and grains in their whole unrefined state. The author says that refining process strips food of its vitamin and mineral content, leaving “empty” calories. While whole grain foods are without doubt more nutritious than processed grain foods, “The Omega Plan” argues that eating whole grain foods (generally high inLA, the parent Omega-6) can still inexorably lead to an Omega-3 imbalance, absent a focus on ensuring the consumption of a balance of Omega-3 foods.

The Queen of Fats


Review of “The Queen of Fats” by Susan Allport

This book is highly recommended.  It outlines the history of the scientific study of fats, leading up to the current understanding that both Omega-6 fats and Omega-3 fats (PUFAs, polyunsaturated fatty acids) are essential to body function, and that the optimum ratio of intake of these fats is thought to be about 4:1.   Neither of these fats can be manufactured by our bodies, and must be supplied by our diet.  The key message of the book is that the modern diet is much higher in Omega-6 fats than Omega-3 fats (upwards of 20:1).  One of the main reasons for this shift is that foods high in Omega-3 spoil quickly (because of oxidation) and thus food processors and sellers prefer foods with lower Omega-3 content.   However, an unbalanced intake of Omega-6 fats can lead to significant health problems.  She also makes the important point that the supplementation/addition of fish oils will not significantly affect the ratio unless the amount of Omega-6 fats consumed is also significantly reduced.

One of the first studies to highlight the importance of the Omega-3 fats was a research expedition to Greenland to take and analyze blood samples from the Eskimos living there.   The death rate from heart disease was one tenth that of Denmark, yet the Greenlanders were known to eat large quantities of seal and whale blubber.  The analysis showed that the Eskimos’ blood contained very small amount of AA  (arachidonic acid, an Omega-6 fat) and very large amounts of EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid, an Omega-3 fat) compared to the Danish population.  The Eskimos also took longer to stop bleeding after the taking of blood samples, and were known for having frequent nosebleeds.

There is a wealth of information about fats, and the story of how various researchers have made advances in the field is outlined in a relatively clear and understandable fashion.  The book presents a lot of somewhat technical information in a very readable manner.  One of the significant aspects of fats is that the parent Omega-6 fat is LA (linoleic acid), while the parent Omega-3 fat is LNA  (alpha linolenic acid).  These fats are found in plants in various amounts.  In animals, these parent fats are converted to more specialized fatty acids. LA is converted into AA ,while ALA is converted into DHA and EPA.   Wild animals that eat food with lots of LNA will end up with higher ratios of LNA, DHA and EPA in their bodies.  Domesticated animals fed food with lots of LA (like grains), end up with lots of Omega-6 fat in their bodies, and very little Omega-3.  In the modern diet, fish (excluding farm fish) are the only remaining animal food source that live wild and as a result have high Omega-3 ratios in their bodies.

The same effect is seen in the human body.  The best ratio of LA to LNA consumption is 2.3:1.  Higher ratios of LA lead to higher conversion of LA to AA (an Omega-6 fat).  Consuming foods with high amounts of LA also inhibits the conversion of LNA to the specialized Omega-3s, and leads to a deficiency of DHA and EPA.  When the human diet contains foods with the optimum ratio of LA to LNA, the body converts the most LNA to DHA and EPA (Omega-3 fats).  The end result this conversion process is that humans can ensure that their bodies are creating an optimal amount of the Omega-3 fatty acids (like DHA and EPA) by eating a balanced diet of plant foods that contain the optimal ratio of LA to LNA.  In addition, we can supplement the amount of the specialized Omega-3 fatty acids (DHA and EPA) by eating animals who have been raised in the wild, and thus have a more optimum amount of specialized fatty acids in their flesh (like fish).

One of the reasons DHA is such an important fatty acid is that it makes up, on average, 25% of the brain, while EPA makes up only 10% of the brain.  (This is likely the reason fish are considered “brain food”.)  EPA helps lower blood pressure, cholesterol, and the inflammatory response in human tissue.   Recent news reports also link fish oil consumption to alleviation of depression symptoms.

A large part of the book discusses how saturated fat consumption and cholesterol levels were initially linked to heart disease.  While this association is not disputed, the author believes that reducing saturated fat alone (without ensuring an optimal ration of Omega-3 consumption) will not lead to improved health.  The importance of Omega-3 fats in the diet has been embraced by the news media, but food processing companies are still resistant to making changes that would result in a significant increase in the Omega-3 fats in their products.  With regard to cholesterol, many of the scientists whose research is discussed in the book dispute the well-accepted theory that high cholesterol is a reliable high risk indicator for heart disease.  One study in particular, outlined in the notes of the book, suggests that people with high levels of serum cholesterol (200 mg and above) score better on a variety of tests measuring mental ability.  (A more interesting study might measure whether the levels of DHA in the blood (or brain) are correlated with increased mental ability(and/or are more significant than the cholesterol levels).)

While the book is not focused on diet suggestions, she does outline 10 suggestions, the first being to eat lots of green vegetables (since they contain alpha linolenic acid, the parent Omega-3) and lots of all vegetables and fruits, (since they contain anti-oxidants, which protect the fats in your body against oxidation).   I would personally suggest (if you find salads get boring after a while) eating a healthy portion of flexseed (1/2 cup of flaxseed freshly ground in a conical burr grinder with fresh or frozen blueberries and lots of almond milk) in the morning, along with freshly made vegetable juice throughout the day.  Although flaxseeds apparently contain cyanogens, their toxicity is not confirmed.  I also like lox on bagels, sushi and waldorf salad (fresh walnuts are relatively high in LNA).

A review at Amazon.com [http://www.amazon.com/Queen-Fats-Omega-3s-Removed-California/dp/0520242823] suggests that, in the book, low-carb high-fat diets were ridiculed from start to finish as destructive and a fad, despite overwhelming evidence that they are not [destructive].   I think it would be fairer to say that the central theme of the book is that current research has identified particularly Omega -3 (as well as Omega-6) as fatty acids which are essential to health and intake of these essential fats must be balanced in a relatively well known ratio.  The EFAs cannot be manufactured by the body.  Unfortunately, the modern (North American) diet is dangerously overweighted with Omega-6 fats, and good health requires that intake of Omega-6s be decreased and Omega-3s increased.   The book also suggests that a diet which is only focused on increased fat intake and does not ensure an EFA balance will inevitably lead to health problems (even if the change from a high refined carb to a high fat diet results in a short-term improvement in health).  The review also says that Allport’s recommendation to eat large amounts of fruit (p139) could be a disaster for diabetics.   This criticism is a bit akin to criticizing mothers everywhere from time immemorial who have encouraged their children to eat more fruits and vegetables.  It may be true that eating (high glycemic index) fruits could cause a spike in blood-sugar levels.  However, relatively speaking, refined carbs and milk fall into the most toxic food category, while fruits have unquestioned beneficial antioxidants.  The book actually notes that (of all fruits and vegetables) green vegetables are to be preferred because they are full of the parent Omega-3, LNA.

Positive Health


Positive Thinking... (Acoustic Alchemy)

Positive Thinking... (Acoustic Alchemy) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Introduction:

This is the start of some notes about positive eating and positive thinking.  The focus will be on essential fatty acids (Omega-3‘s) and positive psychology.  It will be a sort of user’s manual for the human body and the human brain, outlining simple ideas for effective and optimal functioning.  I am thinking of starting out with some book reviews.

The bibliography will include “The Queen of Fats” by Susan Allport, “The Omega Plan”, and “Buddhism without  Beliefs”.  I expect there will be a lot of revisions.

This is a trial link to another omega3 blog: http://omega3blog.wordpress.com/