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Better Than Before: How Diet Effects Mood with Elizabeth Somer

Elizabeth SomerQuite frankly, with the type of winter we have had so far in New York – and continuing to have, now into March – I sometimes think that only a trip to a Caribbean island will make me feel better! Thoughts of a swim in the warm ocean, lying around the sun-drenched white sand, and having one (or ten) of those drinks with the little umbrellas will undoubtedly do the trick. But obviously most of us can’t hop right on a plane to a tropical island. And, snow and cold aside, why aren’t we enjoying winter, anyway? Sledding, skiing, skating aren’t just for watching during the Olympics! And after all, being Better Than Before is all about living in the moment.

I took my query to Elizabeth Somer, author of the bestselling Eat Your Way to Happiness, and highly sought-after and respected source of nutritional information and lifestyle changes. I was hoping she could share some good news on how to keep in a good mood – not to mention not gain twenty pounds from all those hot chocolates with mini marshmallows – while we wait and wait…and wait, for spring.

JWM: Let’s start with the obvious basic question: Why does our mood often plummet during the winter?

ES: At its foundation, it’s biological. The seasonal drop in sunlight throws brain chemistry out of whack, making some of us more anxious, depressed, and tired this time of year. We snap at the kids, sleep more, crave sweets, and as a result, gain weight.

JWM: Can depression, mood swings, and chronic irritability be symptoms of more serious problems than just winter blues? Other than PMS or menopause, that is.

ES:. Yes, it could be Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD. The winter blues and SAD rest on the same continuum, differing only in their degree of severity. In other words, a person suffering from winter blues might feel grumpy and tired, while someone with SAD suffers serious depression, with feelings of desperation, anxiety, and exhaustion. If your depression interferes with important aspects of your life, such as your job or relationships, or if you have feelings of hopelessness, these are possible symptoms of SAD that should be discussed with a physician.

JWM: Who suffers from it? Other than we confirmed hypochondriacs, of course.

ES: Approximately 10 to 20 percent of Americans battle the winter blues. The reasons why our moods slip and our appetites take over by mid-winter could be simply that we’re cooped up, bored, and restless; or it could have a deeper cause, resulting from a drop in serotonin, a brain chemical that regulates mood and hunger. Whatever the reason, most people have some kind of behavior change in the winter. Children and teens can suffer from the winter blues, too.

JWM: What could be some of the signs?

ES: The main ones are obvious – depression and fatigue that lingers. Or, ask yourself the following: Has your mood plummeted along with the temperature? While you stare forlornly out the window at another bleak, winter day, is your spouse dozing rather than playing with the kids? Do you find yourself power snacking on Skittles by the 5th day of rainstorms. If so, you could be battling winter blues or SAD.

JWM: Are there foods and activities — other than Skittles– that you recommend that can boost our mood in these darkened days?

ES: Absolutely. First of all, you might consider finding more light. If your mood improves while vacationing down South, for example, it’s probably more the sunshine than the trip. [Or the drinks with umbrellas.] The researchers at the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Maryland, are among those who have linked dark winter skies to low levels of serotonin, which makes some people drowsy and more prone to depression. Ample sunshine hitting the retina of our eyes triggers a cascade of events in the brain that raises serotonin levels. Voila! Moods improve! Up to 80% of SAD and winter blues sufferers report at least some relief when exposed for 30 minutes to 1 1 /2 hours daily to sunlight or a specialized light box that emits light 5- to 20-times brighter than typical indoor light. Check out the internet for a local resource for these lights.

JWM: How about diet? Any suggestions?

ES: Eat Regularly: Don’t attempt to skip breakfast in an effort to cut calories. You’ll overeat later in the day, struggle more with mood swings and fatigue, and battle a weight problem in the long run. Be sure to eat breakfast, but make it light and include some carbohydrates, such as cereal, fruit, and milk. Then have lunch. Something as simple as a sandwich, nonfat milk, and a piece of fruit will fuel your brain, body, and mood.

JWM: One way a lot of us make the cold hours pass better is with something to nibble on. What about snacks?

ES: Snack, but not on sweets. A voracious sweet tooth during the winter months also might stem from low serotonin levels. Chowing down on sweets works temporarily – serotonin levels rise and we feel better. But that high is followed by a crash, setting up a roller coaster of highs and lows that causes overeating and weight gain. Replace these foods with more nutritious sweet treats, such as fresh-sliced kiwi mixed with nonfat strawberry-kiwi yogurt, a half papaya filled with lemon yogurt, fresh fruit layered in a parfait glass and topped with a dollop of low-fat whipped cream, or nonfat milk whipped in a blender with fresh fruit and a sprinkle of nutmeg.

JWM: But how about people who have a sweet tooth? As you said, sugar is counter-effective in the long run. What should they do?

ES: One way to sooth your mood and save your waistline is to switch from fatty sweets to high-quality carbs, such as whole grain breads and crackers, brown rice, oatmeal, or starchy vegetables like corn or potatoes. Plan a mid-afternoon all-carb snack, such as half a whole wheat English muffin with jam, 3 fig bars, or drizzle honey over a toasted cinnamon bagel to counteract the desire to eat sweets at this crave-prone time of day. Also include carb-rich foods in your meals, such as pasta primavera or marinara, whole wheat couscous, or yams cut into strips and baked on a cookie sheet to make ‘French fries.’ (Serotonin also improves sleep, so a serotonin-boosting evening snack, such as air-popped popcorn or a scoop of sorbet, will help you sleep better, too!)

JWM: There is a lot that has been written about omega-3 fat DHA elevating your mood. How do you feel about that?

ES: You can definitely boost your spirits by taking either omega-3 fat DHA supplements of food rich in it. Research shows that this fat helps boost mood all year long, especially in the winter. In fact, DHA curbs depression by up to 50% in people who are the most difficult to treat; and even helps those who just battle a bit of grumpiness. Interestingly, researchers have found that people who are depressed have much lower levels of omega-3 fats in their blood, fat tissues, and brains — up to 36% lower than happy people. In fact, as omega-3 levels drop, so do levels of serotonin, leaving people grumpy, blue, and downright depressed. If your DHA levels are low, you have a 2.6 times greater risk of getting really crabby and blue compared to someone who keeps those levels high. On the other hand, up your intake of omega-3 fat DHA and serotonin levels rise and mood improves. The evidence is so overwhelming that the American Psychiatric Association in 2006 recommended omega-3s be included in any treatment for depression.

JWM: What are the best foods for omega-3 fat?

ES: You can get all the omega-3 fat you need from flaxseed, walnuts, canola oil, leafy greens or soy to help lower your risk for heart disease, but those foods will do nothing for your mood or memory. That’s because there are three omega-3 fats, and they are not all created equal. It is only the omega-3s in fish, especially DHA, which will boost your mood. Aim for 2 servings of omega-3-rich fish such as salmon every week, choose foods fortified with DHA, and/or take a daily supplement that contains at least 220 milligrams of DHA.

JWM: If we don’t see any improvement in our mood or appetite after a few weeks on a high-carb menu, what should we do?

ES: Try substituting some of those carbs for more protein. New research from the National Institute of Mental Health shows that some people don’t experience a mood boost when they eat high-carb diets. So, if you still feel grumpy after a week’s worth of the high-carb choices, try cutting back on the carbohydrates and  increasing protein intake by adding a slice of turkey or a glass of milk to the meal. Protein has a satiating effect that keeps you full longer and curbs cravings in some people.

JWM: A lot of people drink coffee to improve their mood. But for some, like me, it has the opposite effect. What are your thoughts about this?

ES: It’s better to limit coffee. While caffeine is a great pick-me-up, if you are drinking more than 3 small cups a day, it could be fueling fatigue. For the person who is sensitive to sugar or caffeine, simply removing these substances from the diet may be all it takes to reduce or even eliminate depression, according to research from the University of South Alabama. How coffee affects mood is unclear, although caffeine is a drug that affects the nervous system. Cut back or eliminate coffee, tea, chocolate, cocoa, colas, and caffeine-containing medications, such as Excedrin, Dristan, and Dexatrim.

JWM: We spend so much time in heated rooms in the winter, leading to not only dry skin, but dry everything. Is that a factor?

ES: Absolutely. Actually, the first sign of dehydration is fatigue, which is the stepping stone for depression. Many of us are mildly dehydrated, because thirst is a poor indicator of your body’s need for water. Drink twice as much water as it takes to quench your thirst, or at least 8 glasses daily. Drink even more water if you exercise intensely or drink a lot of coffee and tea.

JWM: Are there any other supplements that you recommend that can affect our moods?

ES: It is difficult in winter to constantly keep up the proper quantities of fresh vegetables and fruit. So several nutrient deficiencies, including the B vitamins, are more common in the winter that indicate a link to impaired mental ability and mood swings. More than one in four patients with depression is deficient in vitamins B2, B6, and B12, and folic acid. B-rich foods include chicken, legumes, fish, bananas, avocados, and dark green leafy vegetables. A moderate-dose multiple vitamin and mineral, supplies these B vitamins and can fill in the nutritional gaps on those days when you don’t eat perfectly. In addition, preliminary evidence suggests that low vitamin D levels, which can occur due to lack of exposure to sunlight, might contribute to winter blues. So make sure your supplement has at least 1000IU of this important nutrient.

JWM: What about exercise? Please don’t say to take a spin class or use the elliptical machines, my two fitness nemeses in any season!

ES: Any kind of exercise is good. It’s well proven that people who are vigorously active almost every day are at much lower risk for developing any form of depression, including winter blues.

Now if I can get my husband, The Lawyer, to sprint to take omega-3 supplements while drinking a gallon of water, I might have some peace around here before springtime!

BS-LIST OFFENDER: How the Health Food Industry Is Feeding You Half-Truths About Omega-3

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According to the website of chia-bar maker, Health Warrior, “1 bag of chia = 10lbs of salmon.” These figures supposedly mean lots of “BRAINPOWER” and a slew of other health benefits. There are plenty of other companies and products that claim similar nutritional feats. If only it were all true. In the name of nutrition science and your health, I’m here to call BS on this misinformed hype-y unscientific souped-up marketing claim!

While there may be some truth to the amounts of omega-3 in a single bag of Health Warrior’s product, there is some ridiculously important information health food companies don’t tell you when they equate plant and animal sources of omega-3. To put it simply: omega-3 from plant and animal foods are not created equal. And all that “BRAINPOWER” isn’t going to come from plant sources of omega-3—because it can’t.

Goddesses don’t have to know everything, but they always question what they read and hear. While there are certainly health benefits to now-trendy chia seeds, along with good ol’ flax seeds, walnuts, hemp, etc. there’s just as much misinformation and hype based on the faulty logic of equal or higher amounts of omega-3 in these plant foods in comparison to animal foods.

DON’T FALL VICTIM TO NUTRITION MISINFORMATION & HYPE!
hypevtruth

The omega-3 in chia and flax seeds—or any plant food for that matter—is not made up of the same stuff as the omega-3 in cold-water fish, and pastured animal foods like eggs, dairy and meat. That’s right, you heard me: not just fish, but animal foods in general have omega-3, and the best kind! That is, so long as those animals were pastured/grass-fed (vs. corn, soy, grain or “vegetarian”-fed—even if that corn, soy or grain is organic).

Why is omega-3 from pastured/grass-fed animal foods so great? Because it contains pre-formed fatty acids EPA and DHA. Plant foods do not. The way an animal is raised and fed determines how healthy the fat composition of its foods are. Pastured/grass-fed animals make some of the healthiest and most irreplaceable fats around. Accept no substitutions–they don’t exist!

WHY OUR BODIES NEED OMEGA-3 FATTY ACIDS EPA & DHA 
You want to eat foods containing EPA and DHA for tons of reasons, including brain, heart, skin and immune system health, a healthy inflammation response, lubricated joints, maintenance of elasticity in cell membranes, healthy cholesterol levels, brain development in children, and normal brain function in adults(1)—basically an endless list of essential bodily functions.

WHY ANIMAL FOODS CONTAIN PRE-FORMED EPA & DHA, BUT PLANT FOODS DON’T
Think you can only get EPA and DHA from fish? Think again. Think of peoples in landlocked countries across time: their access to seafood was limited to occasional trade. In order to be able to nourish themselves, generation after generation, landlocked cultures must have had access to foods containing EPA and DHA. And they did: from animal foods sourced from the likes of pastured cows, goats, sheep, chickens, etc.

When animals eat grass, seeds and insects (yep, insects are part of a healthy diet Nature intended for animals, particularly chickens), their digestive processes convert the omega-3 fatty acid ALA they eat from said foods into omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA. Any of the foods you eat from these animals—eggs, dairy, meat—have this pre-formed EPA and DHA. In the case of wild salmon (not farmed salmon), they eat shrimp and krill which have, in turn, eaten lots of phytoplankton, putting salmon at the top of a food-chain with more than one stage of pre-formed EPA and DHA consumption.

So animals that eat grass, seeds and insects convert the omega-3 fatty acid ALA in their food to the Essential Fatty Acids EPA and DHA. Plants don’t (c’mon, they make energy from “eating” sunshine, water and soil minerals). One exception: algae. But don’t get too excited: although algae contain DHA, they don’t contain much EPA, nowhere near the ideal 1:1 ratio, or the suggested 4:1-1:1 ratio of EPA to DHA for optimal health and disease-prevention (more on this later).

WHY IT’S SUPER-IMPORTANT YOU EAT PLENTY OF OMEGA-3 FROM ANIMAL FOODS

True, our bodies can make EPA and DHA from plant-sourced omega-3 (i.e. from chia, flax, walnuts, hemp, or any other plant fats). Unfortunately, our bodies don’t make it very efficiently: the conversion rate for the human body to make EPA from an omega-3 plant source (like chia or flax) is only 6-8%, while the rate for DHA is a meager 0.1-3.8%.(2,3)And if your diet is super-high in omega-6 fats (like is it for anyone eating what’s considered “normal” amounts of vegetable/plant oils), this conversion rate is reduced 40-50% to virtually nothing. (4)

To make matters worse, EPA and DHA conversion is especially inefficient when the diet lacks sufficient saturated fat. When you consider that we’re told to avoid saturated fat like the plague in the US, the ability to convert EPA and DHA can and often does become even more compromised (basically, if you don’t eat meat, or even just whole eggs and/or whole-fat dairy, you won’t get much saturated fat unless you load up on coconut or palm oil).(5)

WHY YOU SHOULD EAT PLENTY OF PASTURED ANIMAL FOODS & LIMIT EATING LOADS OF PLANT FATS

Keep in mind that EPA and DHA naturally come together in animal sources. This is no mistake—Nature really does have our backs. Recent research has shown these nutrients function synergistically, and that our hunter-gatherer and cavewo(men) ancestors ate EPA and DHA in equal proportion to one another (meaning a 1:1 ratio). Today’s proportion is somewhere between 15:1-16.7:1.(6) 

It’s super-important you remember: plant sources of omega-3 always come with higher amounts of omega-6 than omega-3.(7)  This makes it nearly impossible to properly balance your omega-6 to omega-3 intake in a 1:1 ratio on a diet that solely or largely relies on plant foods. (FYI: don’t worry about predominantly-saturated-fat tropical oils like coconut and palm—you can and should go to town with them).

Why do you want your omega-6 and omega-3 intake to be as even as possible? Because omega-6 has pro-inflammatory effects, and omega-3 has anti-inflammatory effects. Therefore, higher levels of omega-6 to omega-3 cause inflammation.(8) This is not a good thing because inflammation is the root of disease (we’re talking everything from the common cold and allergies to diabetes, heart disease and cancer). For this reason you want to limit inflammatory foods (read: eat smaller portions), and eat plenty of foods that are rich in an even balance of EPA and DHA.(9,10) Where do you find these foods? Wild/pastured/grass-fed animal foods.

SO WHAT DOES ALL THIS MEAN?
Simply put, we need animal-sourced omega-3, which comes with pre-formed fatty acids EPA and DHA
—an absolutely crucial info-tidbit that’s all too frequently overlooked or not discussed by the media, health food and supplement companies, and often times even medical professionals. EPA and DHA are pre-formed in animal sources, like wild cold-water fish, and grass-fed/pastured animal foods (whole eggs, meat, lard, tallow, and whole-fat dairy like butter, cheese, yogurt and kefir). Sure you can still enjoy the likes of chia, flax and other plant-sourced fats, just limit them to smaller portions. Your body will thank you.

Does this mean health food companies like Health Warrior are lying to you? I can’t speak for them, but it’s likely they simply do not fully understand the way food works. In any case, you are not being fed the whole truth. And while anger, frustration or disappointment may be natural, understandable responses to this realization, Goddesses remember they possess the power to transform these feelings into beyond-valuable assets, namely the drives to question, self-advocate, investigate, experiment and experience, while remaining open to new feelings and ideas. Always remember, Goddesses: you have the final word when it comes to your health and what you eat.

***

Adapted from Erika Herman’s book, Eat Like a Fatass, Look Like a Goddess: The Untold Story of Healthy Foods

Sources:

1 Ruxton, C., et al. “The health benefits of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids: a review of the evidence.” Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics 17(5), 2004; pp. 449-459. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15357699

2 Gerster , H. “Can adults adequately convert alpha-linolenic acid (18:3n-3) to eicosapentaenoic acid (20:5n-3) and docosahexaenoic acid (22:6n-3)?” International Journal for Vitamin and Nutrition Research 68(3), 1998: pp. 159-173.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9637947

3 Williams, C. and G. Burdge. “Long-chain n-3 PUFA: plant v. marine sources” Proceeding of the Nutrition Society 65(1), 2006: pp. 42-50. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16441943

4 Gerster.

5 Williams.

6 Simopoulos, A. “Evolutionary aspects of diet, the omega-6/omega-3 ratio and genetic variation: nutritional implications for chronic diseases.” Biomedicine and Pharmacotherapy 60(9), 2006; pp. 502-507. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/ pubmed/17045449.

7 Kidd, P. “Omega-3 DHA and EPA for cognition, behavior, and mood: Clinical findings and structural-functional synergies with cell membrane phospholipids.” Alternative Medicine Review 12(3), 2007: pp. 207-227. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18072818.

8 Pischon, T., et al. “Habitual dietary intake of n-3 and n-6 fatty acids in relation to inflammatory markers among us men and women.” Circulation 108(2), 2003: pp. 155-160. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12821543

9 Kidd.

10 Simopoulos.

 

5 Nutrient-Packed Foods for Healthy Hair

de5de856512394ea_shutterstock_96575575.previewMany of us assume that buying the best shampoos and conditioners will be enough to keep our hair looking healthy. These products do help to repair existing hair damage but don’t do much to promote new hair growth and cannot replace essential vitamins that we may be missing from our diet. There are certain essential vitamins and minerals that our hair relies upon, and a lack of these is often the source of many hair growth problems. Some simple changes to our diet can really make a big difference to the look of our hair.

Modern lifestyles can also have an impact – a busy lifestyle, lack of sleep, or even pregnancy can seriously make a difference in our hair health. Vitamin supplements have  been proven to help, but if you are looking for the most natural sources of these vitamins then here is a list of 5 food types foods that can help to provide those essential vitamins your hair needs.

Fish

Many sources site that salmon is the number 1 super food for healthy hair. This is because it contains a great combination of essential substances that our hair simply loves. Omega 3 oils help maintain a well hydrated scalp, and many believe this is essential to maintaining healthy hair growth. Oily fish such as herring, mackerel and sardines are rich in omega-3, and salmon is also rich in Vitamin D which is great for your hair follicles.

If you are someone who doesn’t like eating fish then certain vegetable sources can be a great way to get the omega-3 you need. Rapeseed, flaxseed, soya beans, walnuts, almond and even tofu are all good sources of Omega-3.

Vegetables with Beta-carotene

Beta carotene is present in many vegetables and provides us with a great source of Vitamin A. For many people who suffer from dandruff a simple addition of vitamin A to their diet can help solve the problem. Vitamin A helps to promote sebum oil which is our body’s natural conditioner for our scalp. It can also help with hair growth problems as it is said to assist with oxygenating our scalp. Sweet potatoes are known to be one of the best sources, and other vegetables such as carrots, spinach, and broccoli are also recommended.

Oysters

Oysters are also recommended to help fight scalp problems such as dandruff. A lack of zinc in your diet may even be the cause of hair loss, and oysters have a particularly high zinc content. Zinc helps promote the level of androgens in our body, and for some people a low level of androgens has been directly linked to hair loss. Crab, liver and beef are also good sources of zinc.

Eggs and other biotin rich foods

Our hair is essentially built using protein, a nutrient that has been associated with speeding up hair growth. Protein can be found in many types of foods, but eggs are one of the best sources. Another important mineral in eggs is biotin, and those who have a biotin deficiency may suffer from brittle hair. To prevent this, biotin has been proven to be effective from both foods and supplements if needed. Kidney beans and nuts such as almonds and even peanuts are also good sources of biotin.

Fruit and vegetables with Vitamin C

Vitamin C is great for both our hair and skin. Vitamin C helps keep our blood vessels oxygenated, which in turn keeps our hair follicles healthy. Super fruits such as blueberries have a very high level of Vitamin C, and strawberries and citrus fruits are also good sources. Many vegetables such as green beans, spinach and broccoli are good sources, and the old-fashioned rule of eating colorful vegetables can give you a good indication of a high vitamin C content, as well.

You may have identified that one of these essential sources of vitamins is missing from your diet, and that may well be the cause of a particular problem. If you are concerned and believe you may have a nutrient deficiency then simple tests at your doctors can identify what vitamins and minerals you may be lacking. This Women’s Hair PDF can also help you to diagnose any hair health problems you may have!

Why You Should Not Stop Taking Your Vitamins (Part 2)

Amor Sin Remedio Hopeless Love Hoffnungslose LiebeClick here to read Part 1!

Why Most Vitamin Studies Are Flawed

There is another important thing to understand about clinical trials that review the utility of vitamins in the treatment of disease. The studies that show harm are often designed like drugs studies. For example, a study may use a high dose of vitamin E and see what happens. This is actually a prescient example also explored in recent media.

Studies recently found that high doses of vitamin E and selenium didn’t prevent prostate cancer and may increase risk. What this study didn’t explore properly was the true biochemical nature of vitamin E and selenium. These nutrients work as antioxidants by donating an electron to protect or repair a damaged molecule or DNA. Once this has happened, the molecules become oxidants that can cause more damage if not supported by the complex family of antioxidants used in the human body. It’s sort of like passing a hot potato. If you don’t keep passing it, you will get burned. Many studies simply fail to take this into account.

Nature doesn’t work by giving you only one thing. We all agree that broccoli is good for you, but if that were all you ate, you would die in short order. The same is true of vitamins. Nutrients are not drugs, and they can’t be studied as drugs. They are part of a biological system in which all nutrients work as a team to support your biochemical processes.

Michael Jordon may have been the best basketball player in history, but he couldn’t have won six NBA titles without a team.

Obesity Is Linked To Malnutrition

The tragedy of media attention on poor studies is that they undermine possible solutions to some of the modern health epidemics we are facing today, and they point attention away from the real drivers of disease.

Take the case of obesity, for example. Paradoxically, Americans are becoming both more obese and more nutrient deficient at the same time. Obese children eating processed foods are nutrient depleted and increasingly get scurvy and rickets–diseases we thought were left behind in the 19th and 20th centuries. After treating over 15,000 patients and performing extensive nutritional testing on them, it is clear to me that Americans suffer from widespread nutrient deficiencies, including vitamin D, zinc, magnesium, folate, and omega 3 fats. This is supported by the government’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) data on our population. In fact, 13% of our population is vitamin C deficient.

Scurvy in Americans in 2013? Really? But if all you eat is processed food–and many Americans do–then you, like the British sailors of the 17th century, will get scurvy.

Unfortunately, negative studies on vitamins get huge media attention while the fact that over 100,000 Americans die and 2.2 million suffer serious adverse reactions from medication use in hospitals when used as prescribed is quietly ignored. Did you know that anti-inflammatories like aspirin and ibuprofen kill more people every year than AIDS or asthma or leukemia?

In short, these studies often confuse rather than clarify, and they only serve up doses of media frenzy and superficial analysis. They leave the consumer afraid, dazed, bewildered, and reaching for their next prescription drug.

Please, be smart; don’t stop taking your vitamins. Every American needs a good quality multivitamin, vitamin D, and omega-3 fat supplement. It is part of getting a metabolic tune-up and keeping your telomeres long!

 

Originally published on my website, DrHyman.com.

Can Fish Oil Cause Prostate Cancer? (Part 2)

Pills vitamin supplementsClick here for Part 1!

Consider the Japanese

If it is true that taking fish oil or raising your blood levels of omega-3 phospholipids increases risk for prostate cancer, then why hasn’t this been a problem for Japanese men? They certainly eat their fair share of fatty fish and have done so for generations! The Japanese (and other fish-loving cultures) have been studied many times to test this hypothesis, and guess what? Males in Japan, while having some of the highest levels of EPA and DHA, also have some of the lowest rates of prostate cancer. Only in the most recent studies have Japanese men been shown to have an increase in prostate cancer. Could it be that, as the Japanese begin to abandon their traditional diet of fish, seaweed, and other sea vegetables for the typical SAD (standard American diet, high in saturated fat and linoleic fatty acids), their risk of prostate cancer rises?

It seems that for every claim against fish and fish oil, there are several studies that confirm their benefits. One study, Consumption of Fish Products Across the Lifespan and Prostate Cancer Risk, showed that high blood plasma phospholipids was protective against prostate cancer when fish oil was consumed. Another study showed that omega-3 fatty acids protect against death caused by prostate cancer. And what about the effect of fish oils on the outcome of prostate cancer in men with elevated PSA levels? Again, the literature shows that EPA and DHA have no negative effect.

Personalized Medicine

It’s important to stop and remember that each person has a unique inner ecology and external environment. Contributing factors, such as exposure to environmental toxicity, poor nutrition, and other lifestyle variables, as well as genetics, all play a role in the development of cancer. It’s a complicated disease, and it would be a good idea to pause and look at the whole picture before drawing any major conclusions.

The simple fact is that countless studies have proven the health benefits of eating a diet rich in antioxidants and fiber from fruits and vegetables. And just as we all know that eating your veggies is good for your health, we are now beginning to prove similar health benefits from including healthy fats in your diet. (For more information on how to increase your intake of healthy fats, please see my discussion here). We also know that limiting omega-6 fatty acids and increasing omega-3 fatty acids has been shown to reduce the risk of diabesity in Western cultures.

So, before we toss good medicine aside, we need to examine carefully the factors that contribute to imbalances in the body. We need to assess what we do know and keep asking questions about what we don’t.

We know that a whole foods-based diet, rich in fresh, nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, and lean protein, does make a positive difference in health outcomes. We know that high-quality, purified fish oils are best. We know that a balanced and varied diet is key for maintaining good health. And we know that moderation is the key to a healthy and sensible relationship to food. Any diet or program promoting an extreme is not realistic, sustainable, or even remotely healthy. Remember, the “dose makes the poison,” so just the right amount—and not too much—will allow you to reap the intended benefits. In the case of fish oil, 1-2 grams daily is appropriate for most people, though some of you may need more. I strongly suggest you work with a trained functional medicine practitioner to help you determine the appropriate doses you need, not only for fish oil but for all supplements. My nutrition coaches are here to help you transform general guidelines into personalized solutions.

So, where do I stand on whether fish oil causes prostate cancer?  I’ll be eating sardines in my salad for lunch tomorrow, and I’ll be taking my daily fish oil supplement with my dinner tonight. And I hope you will be too!

Now, I’d like to hear from you…

Have you been swayed by recent reports to feel that omega-3s can cause prostate cancer?

Will you limit the amount of omega-6 fatty acids you consume?

What are some of your favorite ways to include fatty fish in your diet?

 

Originally published on my website, DrHyman.com.

Can Fish Oil Cause Prostate Cancer? (Part 1)

SalmonWhenever a newly published health study challenges current thinking, you can bet it won’t be long before the news media starts ratcheting up the drama and jumping to conclusions. This is true of a recent study called “Plasma Phospholipid Fatty Acids and Prostate Cancer Risk in the SELECT Trial,” published in the July 2013 issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. This study suggests a higher risk of prostate cancer among men who eat omega-3 fatty acids, such as those found in fatty fish like sardines and salmon or in fish oil supplements.

Because I encourage my patients and readers to get plenty of omega-3s, I want to respond to these reports and offer my answer to the question they’ve raised: can fish oil cause prostate cancer? But first, let’s examine the findings.

What the Study Found

The study, which was conducted at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, WA, claims a link between increased blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids and increased incidence of prostate cancer. The highest blood plasma levels of these polyunsaturated fatty acids, specifically EPA, DHA and DPA, were associated with the highest risk. The research also showed that higher levels of linoleic acid (or omega-6 fatty acids, which most Americans eat too much of) were actually associated with a lowered risk. This would suggest that the more fish or fish oil a man included in his diet, the greater the chances he would develop prostate cancer. It would also mean that increasing his omega-6 fatty acid intake would be a good idea.

So, have I led you astray by telling you to eat your fatty fish and limit your intake of processed vegetable oils that contain omega-6 fatty acids? Should I warn you against taking fish oil and instead tell you to eat more cottonseed and sunflower seed oils? Let’s look at the facts and decide.

A Closer Look at the Study 

This study used what is called a retrospective case controlled cohort design. Simply put, to make their conclusions, researchers from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center used data from a previous study conducted in 2011 called the SELECT (Selenium and Vitamin E Cancer Prevention Trial). It’s important to note that the original SELECT study did not have the same objective as this current one.  It wasn’t designed to determine whether fish oil led to prostate cancer. The fact that both studies didn’t have the same goal calls into question whether the old data is even relevant to the new study.

What we can be sure of is that association does not prove cause and effect. If this had been an intervention design study, where half the participants got fish oil and half didn’t and they were followed for 20 years to see if they got prostate cancer, then you can say pretty definitively that they are connected. Bottom line, this type of study does not prove cause and effect. If I did a study on sunrise and humans waking up, I would find 100% correlation, but that doesn’t mean that the sun came up because you woke up. Correlation, yes; causation, no.

Another problem with the study is that the researchers did not address whether the men who were studied got their omega-3 fatty acids from eating fatty fish or from taking supplements. Also, there was no regard for their health status before starting the study. Did they start using fish oil as a therapy once diagnosed with prostate cancer or had they been taking it all along?

And what about the myriad other factors that can lead to the onset and progression of cancer, such as how lifestyle affects genetics? Smoking, nutrition, exercise, environmental toxicity, stress: none of these things were taken into account. It is too simplistic to reduce a disease as complex as cancer down to one trigger. In fact, perhaps we should be asking if these men were exposed to toxins and heavy metals from eating mercury-containing fish, which can cause cancer. Or did the men smoke or drink to excess? Was there a history of cancer in the family? What was their personal health history prior to diagnosis? Were they overweight or obese, and did they have other symptoms of diabesity?

Another major flaw with this study’s design involves the way the researchers got their data. They analyzed blood plasma instead of red blood cells. And they did so with one single blood draw! The conclusions would have been stronger and more reliable had they used red blood cell samples, because those provide a more accurate assessment over the long term (plasma tends to provide only a short-term picture). Because the research was based only on samples of a single blood draw, the red blood cell analysis would have given a better picture of long-term omega-3 intake (a couple months of eating salmon, for example, instead of what happens in the body after a single meal). That’s why I suggest people use the omega-3 index test, which measures levels from within the red blood cells.

Stay tuned for Part 2!

 

Originally published on my website, DrHyman.com

5 Stress-Reducing Foods to Add to Your Diet

oatmealThere are several ways to attack stress, and the symptoms of stress in our bodies using food. The trick is getting all the nutrients we need to fight stress, without eating excessive calories. This is easy to do, by substituting unhealthy foods with these options, and watching your portions. So instead of eating a super-sized burger and fries, then gobbling carbs and nuts, and stressing over weight gain, simply replace meals and snacks during the day with healthier, stress-reducing alternatives.

1. Boost Serotonin Levels With Whole Grains

Serotonin is the chemical in our brains that tells us we’re happy and content. Lots of foods boost our serotonin levels, including comfort foods like complex carbohydrates and milk. You can get healthy complex carbs from whole grain cereals, breads, pastas, and oatmeal. Whole grains are also filling, so these foods help prevent over-eating.

Usually, people enjoy breads with butter, and pasta with a rich sauce. Up the nutritional value, and lower the calories by enjoying bread with sugar-free jam, and pasta with a tomato based sauce flavored with oregano, and other herbs and spices.

2. Cut Stress Hormones With Citrus and Black Tea

Cortisol and adrenaline are stress hormones. They make us feel horrible, and over time eat away at our good health. Black tea is a great way to lower these hormones, and unlike coffee and some other peppy drinks, it don’t raise our heart rate or blood pressure. Foods containing high levels of vitamin C also cut cortisol and adrenaline, such as citrus fruits.

Fortunately, black tea has no calories, and citrus fruits are very low in calories. Read about other foods that reduce cortisol and adrenaline at the Best Drug Rehabilitation Manistee blog.

3. Lower Blood Pressure With Nuts and Seeds

One of the most serious effects of stress on our system is high blood pressure. Even if you don’t ordinarily have high blood pressure, the effects of constant spikes in blood pressure through the day, in response to stressful situations takes its toll. You can lower blood pressure by avoiding too much salt, and adding foods like nuts and seeds to your diet. Pistachios are another good choice. Keep portions to a single handful, because nuts pack serious calories.

4. Stock Up on Magnesium in Spinach and Salmon

Low magnesium is linked to frequent headaches and fatigue, both of which add to stress levels. Spinach is packed with magnesium, as are soybeans, and salmon. These foods also have many other nutrients, some of which are healthy for the heart, such as Omega 3 acids in salmon.

5. Boost Your Immune System With Omega-3 Rich Foods

The vitamins in spinach also help boost the immune system, which takes a brutal hit in times of stress. You can also give your immune system a boost with the vitamins A and E found in almonds. Substitute two, or three servings of red meat per week with Omega 3 rich fatty fish, such as salmon, or tuna. These have the added benefits of lowering stress hormones, like cortisol and adrenaline, and improving heart health.

When you can’t eat your way through a stressful situation, consider other ways to calm your nerves. A brisk walk, cuddling with a pet, enjoying the outdoors, and engaging in a calming activity like painting all help relieve stress. When it’s time to eat, grab one of these healthy alternatives to candy bars and potato chips.

Chia Seeds Take Over the World!

chiaheart-article-chia-seedsWe’re declaring it: Chia seeds are the new avocado.

The formerly obscure seeds beloved by ancient civilizations are now a superfood staple of modern urbanities. Lauded for their omega 3s, fiber, and protein, chia seeds are fast becoming a culinary darling among healthy types. Warning: If you haven’t been offered a chia smoothie yet, your chia-free days are numbered.

And it’s not just the seed form that people are flipping for. Chia seeds are now found in nearly every section of the grocery store—including the beauty aisle. You can find chia bars, chia oil, and chilled chia snacks. Innovative chefs are adding it to their menus—witness the Chia Seed Muffin, one of Pain Quotidien’s most popular bakery items (which online recipe writers love to try to replicate). Just how did this happen?

HISTORY

Chia’s got a rich history, starting with its pre-Colombian past as a food that fueled Aztec warriors. And, in Born to Run, Christopher MacDougall explains how the long-distance Tarahumara runners of Mexico chowed on chia. The backstory lent itself to awesome possibility—and marketing with mass appeal.

WHO IS CHIA FOR?

Chia’s a shape-shifter of the Safeway and a chameleon of the Kroger. (And if you don’t see them in those groceries, it’s just a matter of minutes.) It’s got a masculine or sporty side (Health Warrior bars) and a feminine side (Mama Chia beverages and squeezable Vitality Snacks). Both call to the marathon-running athlete and the health-conscious woman working marathon hours. And in between, there’s a healthy, culinary middle range. More on that in a minute.

NUTRITION PROFILE

Chia shotsChia’s nutrient density—high omega 3s, loads of fiber (5g per serving), and nice bump of protein (3g)—and its capacity to expand (and become a tad gelantinous like tapioca) provide stamina, endurance, and a feeling of satiety, says Dan Gluck, co-founder of Health Warrior. (So it’s no wonder chia’s also beloved by women looking to stay trim and away from the office cupcakes and vending machine.) It contains all 10 essential amino acids that you must get through your diet, so it’s considered a top source of complete plant-based protein; and it has an impressive amount of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals.

CHIA’S CULINARY CRED

Lately it’s been looking more culinary, with chefs sprinkling it on salads, bakers turning out chia muffins, and a stateside newcomer, The Chia Co., a company based in Australia. It sustainably farms the salvia Hispanica in the equatorial Kimberly region. (“It’s a latitude specific crop that grows best and achieves optimum omega 3 levels at 15 degrees from the equator,” explains The Chia Co. CEO John Foss.)

And from its harvest The Chia Co. makes Chia Shots that slide out of a skinny packet into a smoothie or over yogurt, a Chia Oil that can be drizzled over greens, and to-die-for chia pudding called Chia Pods (made from just a few all-natural ingredients) that just launched in Whole Foods. Its peppy, poppy orange packaging looks a piece with an edgy urbanite’s set of Le Creuset pots and Breville Juicer.

 

Read the rest about Chia-infused beauty products and more at Well+Good NYC >>

 

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Are You Fat Enough?

Screen Shot 2013-06-19 at 1.07.36 PMIt’s time to change the way you think about fat. For the past 30 years well-meaning diet gurus have preached that eating fat makes you fat. I’m here to tell you that fat, in and of itself, is not what is making you fat.

Instead, it’s eating too much of the wrong types of fat. After all, all fats are not created equal. But, if you are like 90 percent of Americans, you are eating the wrong type of fat most of the time. It’s time for an oil change!

What is Fat?

Fat is one of the body’s most basic building blocks. The average person is between 15 to 30 percent fat! (Men should be 10-20% fat and women should be 20-30% fat). Of all of the types of fats in our diets, the body only REALLY needs two – omega-3 and omega-6. Our bodies manufacture all the other fats we need.

What is an omega fat? The omega numbers (in this case 3 and 6) refer to where the hydrogen atom joins the fat molecule. Remember, the name is just basic chemistry lingo. What is important to understand is the impact of different types of fat on the body.

The higher quality the fat, the better your body will function. That’s because the body uses fat you eat to build cell walls. You have more than 100 trillion cells in your body, and every single one of them should be constructed of high-quality fat.

How do you know if your cells are getting the fats they need? Your body sends signals when it’s not getting enough good fats. It’s up to you to recognize the warning signs:

  • Dry, itchy, scaling or flaking skin
  • Soft, cracked, or brittle nails
  • Hard earwax
  • Tiny bumps on the backs of your arms or torso
  • Achy, stiff joints’
  • Depression
  • Memory problems
  • Attention deficit disorder
  • Diabetes
  • Weight gain
  • Cancer

Why does the type of fat matter? Building your body from the inside out is just like building a house. You can frame the house with the cheapest stuff you can find or you can invest in quality materials that are going to be energy-efficient and last a long time.

Recognizing Which Fats to Eat and Which to Avoid

Most processed foods are made with poor-quality omega-6 fats from refined processed vegetable oils because they are abundant and cheap. Plus, fat makes food taste good and improves its texture. Take a look at the ingredients of your favorite packaged food.

If the list includes oils made from corn, soy, cottonseed or safflower you are getting a sub-par fat. When the body puts these cheap fats to work, the cell walls also become sub-par. That means instead of being flexible and responsive to inter-cellular communication, cell walls are stiff and rigid. The more rigid the walls, the slower the cell functions and the more vulnerable it is to inflammation.

To ensure your body has the fats it needs to construct high-quality cell walls, you need to eat more omega-3 fats. For starters, cell walls made from omega-3 fats are flexible allowing cells to respond more quickly to messages.

Secondly, these “good” fats help the body churn out prostaglandins, hormones that cool off inflammation. The best places to find omega-3 fats include small cold-water fish – such as wild salmon, sardines and herring, organic flax and hemp seed oils, walnuts, Brazil nuts, and sea vegetables.

Your body is designed to run on high-quality fats. Scientists suspect that early humans ate almost equal amounts of omega-6 and omega-3 fats. Hunter-gatherer humans got their omega-6 fats from seeds and nuts. And their omega 3’s came from eating wild game and fish and foraging for wild plants.

But, as people began to refine oils from plants, the ratio became skewed more toward omega-6. As a result of fats being out of balance in the modern diet, our bodies are more vulnerable to diseases such as cancer and heart disease.

When the human diet contained a balanced number of omega-3 and omega-6 fats, heart disease was almost nonexistent. Cardiovascular disease is now the number one cause of death in the world.

Body Boon

The more omega-3 fats you eat, the easier your body cools itself. A cool body is a less inflamed body. And inflammation is at the root of nearly every chronic disease, especially those impacting the brain and the heart.

Of all the body parts dependent on high-quality fat, the brain is uniquely vulnerable. That’s because it is made up of 60 percent fat, the biggest portion of which is an omega-3 fat called docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).

Your brain needs DHA to spark communication between cells. Easy access to high-quality fat boosts cognition, happiness, learning, and memory. In contrast, studies link a deficiency of omega-3 fatty acids to depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia, and even violence.

After the brain, it’s the heart that will thank you for eating more omega-3s. The heart is a direct beneficiary of omega-3 fats. They tamp down cholesterol by reducing levels of bad fats (triglycerides). Meanwhile, they raise levels of good fats (HDL) in the blood. Part of their magic is that omega-3 fats make blood more slippery, which reduces the likelihood of artery disease.

Beyond the heart and brain, eating the right fat also helps you shed fat. Healthy cell walls made from high-quality fats are better able to metabolize insulin, which better regulate blood sugar. Without proper blood sugar control, the body socks away fat for a rainy day. Ironically, it’s not eating fat that makes you gain weight it’s eating the WRONG types of fat.

How to Know Your Stats on Fats

The great thing about modern medicine is having tests, which can alert us to any imbalances in the body. One test in particular I recommend  is not only really useful, but is also super simple! I work with a lab called Omega Quant, which has excellent testing protocols using evidence-based scientific research on fatty acids. I love this test because you only need a quick blood spot to get detailed results and you do it all from the privacy of your own home! The main result generated in the report will be your Omega-3 index.

In a show I did with Dr. Oz on omega-3 fats, we tested his audience – over 80% of the audience were deficient in omega-3 fats and had many of the symptoms and diseases associated with this deficiency.

I did my own test – and thankfully my omega-3 index is fantastic – that’s because I have had insider information for years on what to eat and what supplements to take.  See my report here.

There are other fatty acid percentages and ratios given in the report, which set this company apart from others on the market. However, I mostly care about three results which are important to monitor for maintaining health and preventing chronic disease. Generally, it is essential to know:

  1. Your omega-3 fatty acid index
  2. Your ratio of omega-6:omega-3 fatty acids
  3. Your level of trans fatty acids

My nutrition coaching team will send your results to you with personalized feedback as well as instructions to improve your ratios. I have personally trained them to look for functional levels in order to provide you with the absolute best care to optimize your health.

Since our modern diet is so empty of omega-3 fats and the traditional sources such as wild fish are increasingly contaminated with toxins, especially mercury, I recommend using omega-3 fat supplements. But I only recommend the highest quality, best absorbed purified and tested forms to get all the benefits without the risks.

When you do the Omega Quant Test my nutritionists will provide you with personalized nutrition advice to optimize your blood levels of these important fats. Learning more about what is going on right in your very own body could not be any simpler! And, it is actually really fascinating to watch and see how your diet and lifestyle directly impact your results.

 

Originally published on my website, DrHyman.com

Does Your Brain Need an Oil Change?

Humans really are fat heads. About sixty percent of the human brain is fat. To maintain proper brain health, you need to get adequate fat from your diet. But, not just any fat will do. Some fats damage the brain. The Standard American Diet (SAD) high in trans and hydrogenated fats worsens inflammation in the body, and this inflammation can damage delicate brain tissues. These unhealthy fats are found in fried foods, shortening, lard, margarine, baked goods, and processed and prepared foods.

Healthy fats help keep the lining of brain cells flexible so that memory and other brain messages can pass easily between cells. Both Omega-6 and Omega-3 fats are important to brain health and should be eaten in a one-to-one or two-to-one ratio to each other. However, the average North American eats these foods in a twenty-to-one to a fifty-to-one ratio, causing a huge imbalance and resulting Omega-3 deficiency. In this ratio, Omega-6 fats can cause or worsen inflammation, for which there is insufficient Omega-3 fats to keep inflammation under control. The typical diet, if it contains any healthy essential fatty acids, usually includes fats found in meat and poultry, or occasionally from nuts and seeds. Most of these fats are Omega-6 fatty acids.

Omega-6 fatty acids are found in the highest concentrations in corn, sunflower, and safflower oils. But, you are more than what you eat. I read somewhere that “you are what you eat eats.” So that means if you eat a diet with meat or poultry that was fed corn, or other grains high in Omega-6s, you’re getting lots of Omega-6s indirectly.

The best sources of Omega-3 fatty acids include flax seeds or oil, walnuts and walnut oil, some types of algae, krill oil, and fatty coldwater fish, particularly wild salmon. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), a type of Omega-3 fatty acid, makes up a large part of the lining of brain cells, helps to keep the cellular lining flexible enough to allow memory messages to pass between cells, promotes nerve transmission throughout the central nervous system, and protects the energy centers of the cells, called “mitochondria,” from damage.

Fish that contain high amounts of this Omega-3 fatty acid include mackerel, sardines, albacore tuna, salmon, lake trout, and herring. But be aware, some of these fish have become contaminated with mercury and, as you just learned in chapter two, some research links mercury to the development of Alzheimer’s disease. So, it is important to avoid fish that consistently shows up high on the mercury radar, including predatory fish like swordfish and shark, as well as sea bass, northern pike, tuna, walleye, and largemouth bass. Salmon raised in fish farms also frequently shows up with high amounts of mercury, not to mention that farmed salmon often contains antibiotic residues and lower levels of the important Omega-3 fatty acids.

Michelle Schoffro Cook, MSc, RNCP, ROHP, PhD, is an international best-selling and ten-time book author and doctor of traditional natural medicine, whose works include: Allergy-Proof, Arthritis-Proof, The Life Force Diet, The Ultimate pH Solution, The 4-Week Ultimate Body Detox Plan, The Phytozyme Cure. and the upcoming e-book The Vitality Diet.  Check out her natural health resources and free newsletter at www.WorldsHealthiestDiet.com.

PHOTO (cc): Flickr / Stephen Rees

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