In popular culture, the heart is often considered to be the seat of our emotions. We love and grieve with our hearts. From a biological point of view, we understand the heart as the organ that pumps blood through our bodies. But there is something more than that to the heart. I know I am not the only one who has experienced chest pain due to a stressful situation. I was too young to really worry that it was heart disease, but did still consider that possibility because of my family history. Ultimately, I made some changes in my life and the chest pains went away completely. The reason for this phenomenon is that stress changes the signals that the heart gets from the brain. While theses signals might be useful if we need to run from a bear, they can be detrimental when we are sitting at a desk.
Not only can stress affect our hearts, but depression can too. A large study examining English civil servants showed found participants that showed signs of depression were more likely to have heart attacks. Another study demonstrated that using therapy to depression helped prevent the development of heart disease. In fact, the participants who did not have heart disease at the beginning of the study and received counseling where 47% less likely to have a major cardiovascular event compared to those who didn’t get the same treatment for depression.
This connection between heart disease and depression might explain why some supplements are good for both the brain and the heart. A prime example is fish oil, which is probably one of the most popular cardiovascular health supplements. Countries that consume more fish and have higher levels of Omega-3 fatty acids have lower rates of coronary artery disease. Another major use of fish oil is to help treat mood issues and depression. Could this last benefit contributing to the cardiovascular advantages of taking fish oil? And to learn more about one possible genetic contribution to both depression and heart disease, check out my recent blog on methylfolate.
An important consideration for depression is that not everyone manifests the same symptoms. Generally the signs to look for are feeling sad, hopeless, anxious and sleeping or eating too much or too little, but some people’s depression manifests as tiredness, irritability or even angry. While there are different causes of depression from situational issues like loss of a loved one to genetic and brain chemistry variations, some of these symptoms seem to be connected to lack of fulfillment in life. It can be hard to find truly fulfilling roles and careers in our modern world and too many people end up working at a job just because that is the one available. I am not saying quit your job, but if you can, weigh these possible long term health concerns when choosing a career. And know that counseling and learning stress coping skills can be genuinely useful.
Fish oil has numerous well-documented benefits for our health. It is probably best known for its cardiovascular advantages of decreasing cholesterol and clotting. Here I am going to focus on its mood supporting qualities, because there have been a number of exciting recent studies. In one study following patients with major depression, the likelihood of also having anxiety was much higher in those with the lowest blood levels of EPA and DHA, the major omega-3 components of fish oil. A second study found that in women a higher intake of omega-3 fatty acids reduced the incidence of elevated depressive symptoms by 49%. This study also pointed out the ratio of omega-3 fatty acids to omega-6 fatty acids was important. This means you can support your mood by both taking fish oil and reducing intake of omega-6 fats like those found in meat and most oils including corn, soy, and vegetable oils.
Fish oil may even be able to reduce suicidal tendencies. It has long been noted in epidemiological studies that low omega-3 levels are correlated with increased rates of suicide. Researchers have also found higher levels of a marker called SAT1 in people with strong suicidal ideation. This marker and related ones were also associated with stress, mood disorders, anxiety, and hallucinations. In mice that were genetically altered to have abnormal expression of these biomarkers, treatment with omega-3 fatty acids brought their levels of the troublesome markers back to normal. All of this very promising research reinforces the use of fish oil as part of the plan to support mental health for even very serious mood disorders.
Posted in Health
Tagged anxiety, cardiovascular disease, cardiovascular health, cholesterol, cholesterol lowering, cognitive decline, cognitive support, dementia, depression, fish oil, food, health, heart health, memory, mental-health, mood disorders, mood support, nutrition, omega-3 fatty acids, stress
An increasing number of studies are showing how our food choices correlate with our mood. They show that it is important to look at our overall pattern of choices as well as a few particular foods. One recent study showed that people who ate a healthy diet were up to 30% less likely to develop depression. By a healthy diet, they mean one high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, fish and unsaturated fats. Another study analyzing a similar diet showed a 30% reduction in the risk of anxiety disorder. This study also included in their healthy diet high-quality meats such as those from free ranging and grass fed animals. Previous studies have also found that diets rich in high-fat dairy, fried foods, and refined and sugary foods are correlated with a significantly increased risk of depression.
Our choice of fats can also have a major impact on our mood. In particular, the unsaturated oils have been shown to decrease the risk of depression over time. These include the polyunsaturated fats from nuts, seeds, and fish and the monounsaturated fats found in olive oil, avocados, and some nuts. Some of the best documented brain-supporting fats are the Omega-3 fatty acids from fish. These healthy oils not only decrease the risk of depression, but also support our memory and cognitive functioning. Deficiencies in Omega-3 oils may also be one of the risk factors for suicide. The worst fats for our brains and mood are the trans-fats, which are associated with increased depression and stroke risk. Trans-fats are the artificially created fats that are more similar to saturated fats and are found in many highly processed foods. As far as saturated fats are concerned, I draw a line between those from conventionally raised animals and free ranging animals. Beef from cattle that are grass fed and finished has a fat profile that is more similar to fish and can be a healthy part of the diet for many people.
Posted in Health
Tagged anxiety, depression, DHA, EPA, fish oil, monounsaturated fats, nutrition, omega-3 fatty acids, trans fats, unsaturated fats, vegetables
Whether we are exercising or doing work that keeps us physically active, sometimes we pay for it afterwards with muscle and joint pain. One day, I spent so much time sanding down a deck for painting that I woke in the night with my hands throbbing. A middle of the night dose of homeopathic arnica helped ease my pain enough that I could go back to sleep. Even though the arnica helped, I have since figured out to take inflammation-modifying herbs before I go to bed so I don’t get woken up.
Two of my favorite herbs for inflammation are turmeric and devil’s claw. Since I rarely have much pain, I just take them as needed. Other people use them regularly, but since devil’s claw is environmentally threatened, I prefer another approach for long-term pain. Especially for joint pain, consider fish oil and arabinogalactans. Fish oil takes a while to work, so you have to stick with it and take a sufficient dose. Make sure you are getting 1000 mg of the actual omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA. It usually takes 2-4 softgels of fish oil to get this amount. Don’t be fooled just because the bottle says 1000 mg of fish oil per softgel. It is fish oil, but fish oil has other components in addition to the omega-3s. Arabinogalactan is an extract from larch trees and comes in a powdered form. These larch arabinogalactans are very similar to the active components in Echinacea, making arabinogalactans a good choice for their immune boosting properties. Additionally, arabinogalactans help fight inflammation and may reduce joint pain. Proper use of natural supplements like these may help ease the sometimes painful side effects of an active life.