Tag Archives: omega-3 fatty acids

Don’t Be Afraid of Fat

Don’t be afraid to include some high fat foods in your diet for better health. Back in the 1980s, fat became the villain that we needed to avoid for heart health and weight loss. Unfortunately, most low fat products ended up being high in sugar or strange artificial ingredients that might do us more harm than the original fat. We also didn’t understand the health benefits we could gain from good fats such as the anti-inflammatory Omega-3 fats from fish or flax.

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The concern about eating fats is that they are more calorie dense than proteins and carbohydrates. From this viewpoint, cutting out fat cuts down on calories and watching calories can help us maintain a healthy weight. But eating foods that have fat in them may help us feel more full and satisfied, which can help us avoid excess snacking. While if we ate a low fat product that was high in sugar, the possible blood sugar and energy crash later could make us want to eat more.

What are the possible health benefits of having healthy fat sources in your diet? Healthy fats can be important for our brain health. I think of the brain as being a complex series of “wires” that conduct electrical impulse. The insulation that surrounds those “wires” is made from fat, therefore our brains need fats to function properly. Certain fats can also be important fuels for our brain cells.

Choosing healthy fats, particularly sources of Omega-3 fatty acids, can reduce inflammation in the body and even protect us from heart disease. Some traditions recommend higher fat consumption to help with allergy and sinus issues. This is possibly related to inflammation reduction and/or adequate moisturization of the sinus passages. Likewise, healthy fats can be vital for healthy skin. I also look for adequate fat intake when trying to find underlying causes of constipation. Sufficient water, fiber and fat consumption can be important for proper bowel health.

Even saturated fats aren’t the offenders we once thought. For years, we were told that saturated fat from meat and dairy products contributed to heart disease. Now even more conservative groups are starting to question this connection, citing a recent study that showed higher saturated fat consumption didn’t mean higher rates of heart disease when looking at large population studies. The unique saturated fats in some oils like coconut oil are even being touted for their particular weight loss and brain health benefits.

There is still one type of fat out there that we need to avoid: transfats. These are the artificially made fats that were originally produced to replace butter and other saturated fats. Now, we know that these hydrogenated fats found in shortenings and many processed foods are the worst culprits when it comes to heart health. Surprise, surprise, the unhealthy fats are the artificial ones!

Besides avoiding transfats, the most important consideration is picking fat sources that bring a lot of other additional nutrients to the table. Many processed foods that are high in fat are just junk. Think of donuts and other white flour laden deserts. Now, stop thinking about donuts, and chose instead foods like nuts, avocados, eggs, and olive oil. These healthy fats sources are also loaded with vitamins and antioxidants to help protect our health.

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Finally because high fat foods are calorie dense, we need to watch our serving sizes. For instance, a serving of nuts is generally ¼ cup, so don’t sit there and eat a whole pound.

We are all different so the amount and types of fat we need can vary, but healthy fats are now in the good foods column. So don’t run from these healthy foods due to outdated propaganda.

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A Connection between Depression and Heart Disease

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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Natural Flu Prevention

This seems to be shaping up to be a particularly bad flu season. So far, nearly forty people have died of influenza here in Arkansas. My husband recently had a mild case himself, and it made me think I should share what I did to prevent myself from getting it. These interventions can also help prevent colds and other upper respiratory infections and reduce the severity of a cold or flu if you come down with one.

Astragalus

Astragalus

When the cold and flu season starts, I begin taking astragalus, which has been shown to boost the immune system especially when taken long term. That is why I start it at the beginning of flu season, so I get the full immune benefits. But it is worth starting at anytime since astragalus also has a mild antiviral activity. Astragalus also helps with the body compensate for stress and reduces cortisol, which has been shown to suppress immune function. In addition, astragalus can help increase stamina. Because of this combination of immune and energy benefits, I choose astragalus over Echinacea for the flu season. I still use Echinacea sometimes, especially if my preventative strategies haven’t been enough and I start to feel a cold or flu coming on.

Another lesser-known immune booster is larch arabinogalactan. These are polysaccharides derived from the larch tree. Polysaccharides are the immune stimulating compounds in many of the best-known immune herbs like Echinacea and aloe. In addition to supporting the immune system, larch arabinogalactan can help with inflammation and joint pain. I also like larch arabinogalactan because it is a mild tasting powder that is safe to for children.

In addition to an immune booster, I take my daily fish oil and vitamin D. Fish oil and vitamin D are again obvious choices because of their multiple health benefits. The polyunsaturated fatty acids in fish oil help with optimal immune function, while also supporting mood, fighting inflammation and helping prevent heart disease. Vitamin D has been shown in numerous studies to help reduce rates of influenza. People who are deficient in vitamin D are much more likely to get the flu. In fact, lack of vitamin D production from sunlight is possibly one of the reasons the flu season is at this time of the year. If you already have adequate vitamin D levels, taking more vitamin D isn’t necessarily helpful. In fact, excess vitamin D might slightly increase the rate of influenza.

Elderberry

Elderberry

I always keep elderberry syrup in my house, and when my husband or I start feeling sick, this what we reach for. Elderberries have been shown in test tube studies to reduce the rate of influenza virus replication. Studies have also shown it to reduce the severity and duration of flu symptoms. In one study, 87% of the people taking elderberry had nearly complete resolution of symptoms in 3 days, while only 33% of those given the placebo felt as good at that point.

There are many other herbs and supplements that I could write about to help fight the flu, but lifestyle considerations are even more important. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to reduce stress, get adequate sleep, and allow yourself extra rest when you feel like you need it. When our stress goes up, so does our cortisol, which as I mentioned suppresses the immune system. Additionally, inadequate sleep hampers our immune system partially through causing elevated cortisol output. So get 8-9 hours of sleep a night and establish stress management techniques like deep breathing, exercise, yoga or meditation so that every day stress won’t leave you more susceptible to the flu.

Detoxification Support Part 1: Dietary guide to aid detox

Many popular New Year’s resolutions involve being healthier, and lots of people kick this off by doing a whole body cleanse. Because we live in such a toxic world, I want to encourage these efforts by writing a series of blogs this month about detoxification support. This week I am starting with the basics: dietary changes to assist with detoxification.

While there are many different dietary approaches to detoxification, I am going to emphasize the essentials that apply to nearly everyone. Of course, some people with specific health conditions will need to modify these suggestions for themselves. The following diet promotes detoxification by minimizing toxins in, keeping the pathways of elimination free to deal with toxins leaving the body.

  • Eat regularly, three times daily with snacks as desired, so your blood sugar doesn’t drop.
  • Eat organic foods, if possible. Do not eat products that are canned, packaged or contain artificial colorings, preservatives, additives, or other chemicals.
  • Eat lots of vegetables and some fruits; try for 4-5 packed cups each day.  Veggies and fruits are full of antioxidants and fiber that are helpful in detoxification. Eat a variety of different types of veggies to get the full range of antioxidants, but especially emphasize the cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, kale, cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and arugula.
  • Eat less meat and dairy and more vegan proteins, such as beans, tofu, tempeh, nuts, nut butters, and seed butters.  If you eat fish (small salmon, cod, herring, sardines only) take 1000mg Chlorella with the meal; this will along with fiber reduces mercury absorption.  If you eat meat, try to eat low-fat cuts from free range grass-fed, hormone and antibiotic free animals or wild game.
  • Eat lots of fiber. It is a great detoxifier as it binds fats, hormones, chemicals, metals and other undesirables in the intestines.  Fiber is found in beans/legumes (the best!), apples, peaches, pears, berries, crunchy vegetables, and whole grains.  Eat two to three of these fiber sources at every meal.
  • Have good quality oils like extra virgin olive oil, flax, fish, walnut, or Omega 3-6-9 blends. Have at least 1 Tablespoon 1-3 times per day.
  • Support friendly bowel bacteria by eating cultured foods: miso, kim chi, real sauerkraut, kvass, and kombucha.
  • At least once daily, eat foods stimulating to liver function and bile flow such as lemon, 1360960_21026592lime, beet, carrot, parsnips, chlorophyll, artichoke, fresh rosemary, caraway, dill seeds, burdock and dandelion roots.
  • Have no refined or concentrated sugar, sweets, caffeine, alcohol, fried or deep-fried food.
  • Drink lots of filtered water – 2-4 quarts per day or more if you are exercising or sweating.

And remember because toxins are such a challenge for us these days, try to apply principles like these to your diet all year round.

 

Omega-3s for Mood

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.

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Breast Cancer Prevention: Alternative Health Tips to Help You Love Your Girls

About 1 in 8 U.S. women (just under 12%) will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime, but there are things we can do to help beat those odd. Diet can play a large role in breast cancer prevention. The World Health Organization estimates that 25% of cancers are related to improper diet. For instance, women who eat more high carotenoid foods have a 20% lower rate of breast cancer compared to those who get the least. Carotenoids are the colorful pigments found in foods like carrots, tomatoes, and leafy green vegetables and include not just the well-known beta-carotene but also alpha-carotene, lutein, and lycopene. Diets high in fiber are also associated with lower risk of breast and colon cancers. Healthy fats are another food category correlated to lower flaxincidences of breast cancer. Examples of healthy fats are monounsaturated fatty acids from olive oil and Omega-3 fatty acids from fish and flax. Also a diet high in lignans was linked to lower rates of hormone sensitive breast cancers. One of my favorite sources of lignan is flaxseed, because they also have fiber and Omega-3 oils, making them a great dietary addition to help prevent breast cancer. Add ground flaxseeds to cereal, smoothies, yogurt, salads, and any number of other foods.

There have been numerous studies linking deficiencies of certain nutrients to higher rates of breast cancer. Many studies have shown a correlation between vitamin D deficiency and breast cancer. Vitamin D is thought to be particularly effective in helping prevent estrogen sensitive breast cancer. Among the other ways it is thought to reduce cancer rates, Vitamin D can inhibit the growth of cancerous cells by helping stop the replication of cancer cells and reducing their ability to invade other tissues. Selenium deficiency is also correlated with increased rates of nearly all cancers including breast cancer. Selenium is an important part of glutathione, one of the most important detoxification molecules in the body. Toxins in our environment, homes, cosmetics, food, and water are thought to possibly contribute to climbing rates of breast cancer. Therefore, it is also important to exercise to help the body get rid of toxins through sweat. Likewise, make sure you only use natural body care products since we seem to be able to absorb all sorts of chemicals through our skin.

Yes, Fish Oil May Help You Live Longer

Back in the 1980, all fats were considered to be unhealthy.  Then, we started distinguishing between good fats and bad fats. Healthy fats include certain unsaturated fats like the monounsaturated fats in olive oil and Omega-3 fatty acids. Sources of Omega-3s fats includes fish, fish oil, canola oil, flaxseeds, and a few other seeds and nuts. Omega-3 fatty acids are widely used to help reduce inflammation and blood clotting. They are also important for skin health and mood. Omega-3 oils support the brain and are associated with healthier brains as we age.

It has long been argued that consuming fish or other Omega-3 sources is good for the heart. Some studies have confirmed this, but others showed no results. A recent well-conducted study seems to have solidly demonstrated the benefits of Omega-3 for the heart and overall longevity. Of over 2000 participants over 65 years old, those with the highest blood levels of Omega-3s had a 27% lower risk of death compared to those with the lowest levels during the 15 years they were tracked. This corresponded to the people with the higher levels of Omega-3s living 2 years longer on average. The largest effect was a 50% reduction in deaths due to cardiac arrhythmias, which are irregular heartbeats that can be live threatening. The difference between this and previous studies is this study measured the amount of Omega-3 fatty acids in the blood of the participants, while other studies had relied on dietary recall of what participants were eating or used questionable quality fish oil supplements. Many prescription and supplemental fish oils are modified from their natural form and may not be absorbed well. It is argued that fish oils that occur in their natural form, know as triglycerides, will be much better absorbed. This is one of the reasons I recommend brand that make sure their oils are in the natural triglyceride form like Nordic Naturals.

Food for Mood

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.

Fight Inflammation

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.

Skip the Red Meat, Live Longer

Last week a new nutrition study caught my eye. Maybe some of you saw it too. The study found a correlation between the red meat consumption and increased risk of all-cause mortality. In fact, each additional serving of red meat per day was associated with up to a 20% greater chance of dying over the course of the study. This was a large study that followed over 100,000 medical professions for 28 years. Every four years, the participants were asked for the details of their diets. Eating red meat was tied to higher rates of cancer and cardiovascular death. The authors of the study suggested that the higher risk of cancer could be due to the potentially carcinogenic substances created by high heat cooking of red meat. Also the link was even greater when participants ate processed red meats like hot dogs that contain nitrites. The risk of cardiovascular death could be related to the saturated fat, cholesterol and iron content of red meat, but this doesn’t seem to be the complete picture. When the authors adjusted the results for participant’s intake of saturated fat, cholesterol and iron, the significance of the link was weakened but still remained.

The study suggests we switch out red meat for alternate protein sources like fish, poultry, nuts, low-fat dairy, beans, and lentils. In addition to having less saturated fat and cholesterol, these foods offer other health benefits. Fish can be a source of inflammation fighting omega-3 fatty acids. Black beans are currently one of my favorite protein sources. They are high in fiber to help keep cholesterol under control. Their black color is also the result of pigments know as anthocyanins that act as antioxidants and inflammation fighters. These attributes are important for helping prevent cardiovascular disease. One aspect of the study that deserves questioning is whether there is a difference between grass-fed beef and the more common grain-fed beef. Grass-fed beef has lower total fat content when compared to its conventional counterparts. It also has higher omega-3 fatty acid content, though not as much as many fish. Since the study didn’t differentiate between these different kinds of red meat, it may be that grass-fed beef should be considered if we want to occasionally add red meat to our diets.