CNN Report Follow-up: Katherine Explains GMO Pros & Cons

Genetically Modified Foods: Part II

Your responses to my recent CNN interview were PASSIONATE – on both sides of the issue – regarding GMO’s health and environmental consequences, but also the health aspects of using soybean oil, its dominance in processed foods and, because of its high levels of omega-6-fatty acid, its relationship to inflammation, a known risk factor for heart disease, cancer, arthritis, and a host of other diseases.

Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) continue to spark passionate debate: Emotions run high regarding studies of the impacts of GMOs on health and the environment, and much attention has been focused on one product widely made from GMO sources: soybean oil.

Common in processed foods in both GMO and non-GMO formulations, soybean oil has high levels of omega-6 fatty acids, which have a well-studied relationship to inflammation, a known risk factor for heart disease, cancer, arthritis and a host of other diseases.

I was interviewed about GMOs and soybean oil by CNN’s   “The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer”  which recently reported that Chipotle — the fast-food restaurant chain, which earned $2.73 billion last year, in part based on their reputation of using environmentally friendly ingredients — disclosed that it is using genetically modified soybean oil, and many genetically modified ingredients, in its dishes.

Most restaurants and food companies in the United States use GMOs, though they may not disclose it.

Genetically modified organisms — in this discussion, genetically modified foods — have genetic material that engineers unnaturally altered. Such foods are extremely controversial, and although they may be safe, a dearth of clinical studies and a lack of clear, accurate public information make the debate even more intense.

“The introduction of genetically modified organisms into the American food supply is a grand experiment,” said Ann Yonkers, co-director of Fresh Farm Markets and a leader in the sustainable-farming movement. “We should be using the precautionary principle with GMOs, and assume that GMOs have to be demonstrated to be good rather than assume that they are good.”

The U.S. government’s stance

GMOs are not allowed in any food certified as organic by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). However, in an online food Q&A, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) stated that GMOs have been in the U.S. food supply for about 20 years. The agency also stated in a consumer update that “Foods from genetically engineered plants must meet the same requirements, including safety requirements, as foods from traditionally bred plants.” Such foods, the FDA added, “are generally as nutritious as foods from comparable traditionally bred plants… [They] have not been more likely to cause an allergic or toxic reaction than foods from traditionally bred plants.”

Additionally, Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said there is no safety hazard in using genetically modified soybean oil over conventional soybean oil — a finding the organization highlighted recently in its Nutrition Action newsletter.

However, the federal government does not require that GMO foods be labeled as such.

“Food manufacturers may indicate, through voluntary labeling, whether foods have or have not been developed through genetic engineering, provided that such labeling is truthful and not misleading,” the agency stated. “FDA supports voluntary labeling that provides consumers with this information.”

No studies have found GM foods to be harmful, but many concerned citizens and scientists believe there have not been sufficient longitudinal (making observations over a substantial period of time) nor clinical studies on the effects of GMOs on human health. Even if researchers were to conduct long-term studies, it would be very difficult to prove that any adverse — or positive — health outcomes are due specifically to the GMOs themselves.

Environmental consequences of GM foods

As for the environment, GMOs seem to have impact. Recently, a rogue strain of Monsanto GM wheat was found in a field in Oregon. Several Southeast Asian countries stopped imports of wheat from the U.S. Pacific Northwest, pending investigation, financially hurting American farmers, according to the Associated Press. Agriculture biotechnology giant Monsanto uses high-handed legal tactics to harass small farmers into using and paying huge sums for Monsanto GM seeds, putting some out of business, according to a CBS News report and other sources. Although the impact of GMOs on health and nutrition is unclear, the impact on the environment seems much more definite — and detrimental.

Huge soy and corn crops displace a more naturally diverse farming system — one that uses fewer resources, is more sustainable in the long term and is healthier for the planet and people (we’ll get to that next). According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, about 84 million acres in the United States are devoted to corn, and about 73 million acres are dedicated to soybeans, a close second. Why do we need so much farmland for soy and corn, two crops largely dedicated to processed foods?

We should instead fill our fields with an array of fruits and vegetables!
 The USDA’s U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends every American eat at least five cups of fruits and/or vegetables daily to prevent heart disease and cancer, and to foster maximum health and ideal body weight.

Ironically, the National Academy of Sciences found that if every American followed those guidelines and attempted to eat those five cups a day, there wouldn’t be enough fruits and vegetables to go around!

Apparently, there is not enough farmland dedicated to fruits and vegetables because U.S. farmland is instead filled with soybeans and corn — much of it genetically modified — catering to the food industry instead of to the health of Americans.

Yes, genetically modifying soybeans and corn will allow the country to grow more at a lower cost. But at what other costs? Is it really what’s best for regular consumers, or what’s best for Big Agriculture and the food industry?

Is soybean oil hazardous?

Soybean oil is a great example of a genetically modified food often associated with misinformation. Because of its low cost, soybean oil is used in a vast quantity of the processed foods Americans eat. (Just look at the food-label ingredient lists in your own kitchen cabinet.)

This is a problem, because soybean oil provides a substantial amount of omega-6 fatty acid. Omega-6 fatty acid, although essential to the human body, is required in very minute amounts, and deficiencies are a rarity. Historically, humans have eaten very little omega-6 fatty acid, as it is not commonly found in nature. Now, omega-6-fatty acid is abundant because of the food industry’s dependence on soy bean oil.

Why is this a problem? Omega-6 fatty acid displaces healthy omega-3 fatty acids in the body. Omega-3 fatty acids (DHA and EPA) are a second type of essential fatty acid that studies suggest promote heart health, and overall health, and reduce inflammation, death from heart attack, cancers and a host of diseases. When omega-6 fatty acid is ingested in dramatically higher quantities than omega-3s are — as occurs in today’s average American diet — omega-6 beats omega-3s for room in human cell membranes. Studies show this can promote inflammation, which is a precursor to a variety of diseases, including heart disease, cancer, asthma, inflammatory bowel disease, and even dementia and Alzheimer’s.

Yes, the GMO debate is still heated and in full swing. There are pros to GM foods —increased yield in staple crops can help to combat world hunger, for example. However, there are also very important issues associated with GMOs that must be discussed. Until we know the results of this “grand experiment,” we can’t really be sure. (Viggy Parr contributed to this report)

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Are Genetically Modified Foods Safe?

CNN’s “Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer” reported… that Chipotle Fast Food Restaurants, which earned $2.73 billion last year, in part, based on their reputation of using environmentally-friendly ingredients, have disclosed (good for them!) they are using genetically modified soy bean oil.

Katherine was interviewed recently for the report.

Genetically Modified Organisms: The GMO – in this case a food’s – genetic material has been altered unnaturally. There are no long term studies proving GMO’s safety to human health.
Sustainable Farming: Farming which has a future, where soil, water, and the environment are protected for future generations.
Local/Seasonal: The movement which promotes eating foods grown locally and in season; when food is picked at peak ripeness for maximum nutrition, flavor, environmental protection, and sustainability. For CNN’s report (and Katherine’s article) on Farmers Markets and how they save your health and the environment…
Omega-6-Fatty Acids, high in soybean oil, compete with Omega-3-Fatty Acids in your body. If omega-6-fatty acid intake is too high in comparison to omega-3′s, this leads to increases in inflammation, a leading risk factor for many diseases including heart disease, cancer, etc. For details…

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Seafood Risks and Benefits

Chinook Salmon (Illustration by Charlotte Knox)

There’s nothing like fresh-caught seafood, especially the salmon and herring my Uncle Olle caught off the coast of Sweden in the Baltic Sea… then grilled, sauteed, smoked or pickled for our enjoyment. Interestingly, seafood which has been frozen on the boat, and bought frozen by you may be more nutritious than a piece of “fresh” fish which has been sitting for days in your grocery store.

Seafood is a source of potent omega-3-fatty acids, a type of polyunsaturated fat important for your health, particularly your heart and brain. To get these benefits, experts recommend you get at least 4 to 11 grams of omega-3-fatty acids weekly (1.1 grams/day for women, 1.6 grams/day for men). Cold water fish contain the highest levels.

It’s ideal to eat fish high in omega-3-fatty acids, yet low in mercury.

Mercury is an environmental pollutant which seeps into the earth’s waters and into our seafood. Nearly all fish and shellfish contain traces of mercury, with some containing more than others, according to the Food and Drug Administration. And with the fear of mercury poisoning from fish, many are confused about what and how much to eat.

Ironically, the most vulnerable to mercury’s hazards – children and pregnant or nursing women – have the highest need for the nutrients in seafood.

 Some guidelines:

1) DON’T eat shark, swordfish, king mackerel or tilefish,

2) DO eat up to 12 ounces of a variety of seafood low in mercury:

  • Five of the most commonly eaten fish which are low in mercury are shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock, and catfish
  • Albacore tuna has more mercury than light tuna, so limit it to 6 ounces per week

3) CHECK local advisories about fish caught in local lakes, rivers and coastal areas

4) Low Mercury, High Omega-3-Fatty Acid Seafood: Salmon, Herring, Sardines, Anchovies

Learn more about Seafood’s Risks, Benefits and Endangered Species at
June 7′s Smithsonian Sustainable Seafood Dinner

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Salmon Says…

It’s Salmon Season!

“After years of fattening up in the ocean, adult salmon return to their ‘home’ river to spawn,” said M.J. Gimbar, Fishmonger for Black Restaurant Group, which runs Blacksalt Fish Market and Restaurant on MacArthur Blvd in Palisades. “This is extraordinary as the salmon find the exact same spot where they were born to lay their own eggs, and this process is repeated for generations to come.” ”The wild Pacific King Salmon are the first to make it up the rivers and are just starting to arrive in Washington,” said Bob Moore, owner of Canon’s Seafood in Georgetown.

Nothing compares to the beautiful, naturally bright-pink wild Pacific salmon for flavor or for omega 3 fatty acid content. Before I share several delicious ways of preparing and enjoying salmon, I’ll explain why it’s so important nutritionally.

I first became interested in the power of omega-3 fatty acids when psychiatrists I work with began prescribing them for their depressed patients. Then I started hearing about their benefits for arthritis and a host of other diseases. And I couldn’t help but wonder, could it be possible that one simple change in the diet could provide so many benefits?

The connection between omega-3 fatty acids and health was first observed in the 1970s. Scientists noted that compared with their counterparts in Scandinavia, Greenland Eskimos had a reduced rate of heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis and other conditions even though they were eating a high-fat diet. The scientists hypothesized that the type of fat — marine derived — might play a role.

Since then, study after study has confirmed that omega-3 fatty acids, a type of polyunsaturated fat found primarily in fish, have a potent and positive effect on heart disease patients. Omega-3s prevent irregular heart beat, reduce plaque inside artery walls and decrease blood clotting, triglycerides (blood fat), blood pressure and inflammation.

“Omega-3s favorably affect a number of risk factors for cardiovascular disease and at the top of the list is reducing the risk of sudden death from heart attack,” says Penny Kris-Etherton, a nutrition professor at Pennsylvania State University.

But the healing powers of omega-3s don’t stop there. Research suggests they may reduce the risk of diabetes, reduce insulin resistance in people with diabetes, enhance bone density and inhibit proliferation of cancer cells in the breast, prostate and colon and improve skin condition by curbing psoriasis. Inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease seem to improve with more omega-3s. In infants, it improves cognition and visual acuity. And emerging research indicates omega-3s may boost levels of the brain chemicals serotonin and dopamine, decreasing depression and violent behavior.

While not an answer to every ailment, omega-3 fatty acids possess considerable healing powers. As an indication of their importance, the Food and Nutrition Board of the National Academy of Sciences recently established a minimum daily requirement: 1.1 grams for adult women, 1.6 grams for adult men.

But in nutrition, balance is everything. Learn more about omega 3 fatty acids…

Enjoy some of Katherine’s favorite salmon recipes…

Salad of New Potatoes and Asparagus in a Lemony-Garlic-Herb Mayonnaise
Topped with Poached Salmon
 (see photo below)

Broiled Salmon in a Mustard Seed Crust

Aquavit and Marcus Samuelsson’s Gravlax Club Sandwich

Traditional Swedish Gravlax and Mustard Sauce

Photo by Ali Eaves

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Maximizing Brain Health: Do’s and Don’ts

My clients regularly ask me: Do certain foods affect my brain and cognition?
My answer: an emphatic Yes! What you eat profoundly affects the brain, memory, and mental function.

Smart Foods on ABC-7 News

Are you eating “Smart” foods? Please let me know by commenting at the end of this article in “Comments.”

“Nutrients are essential for brain function, and because all human beings must eat, we are all exposed,” said Martha Clare Morris, at a National Institutes of Health conference on brain function and preventing cognitive decline.

“The dietary components with the strongest evidence to date for dementia prevention include antioxidant nutrients, fat composition, and B vitamins,” said Morris, director of Nutrition and Nutritional Epidemiology at Rush Medical College in Chicago.

Antioxidant Nutrients

“The brain is particularly vulnerable to oxidative damage due to its high metabolic activity and the presence of relatively few antioxidant enzymes… Antioxidant nutrients (vitamin E, vitamin C, carotenoids, flavonoids) are a natural defense mechanism… Of the antioxidant nutrients, the evidence for brain protection is strongest for vitamin E; that for carotenoids, vitamin C, and flavonoids is limited and inconsistent but promising,” said Morris.

But when it comes to nutrients, both too little or too much can be dangerous. So I recommend you get those nutrients from food, not from supplements, which can be harmful and may disturb the natural nutritional balance of your brain.

Some examples of foods high in brain-protecting antioxidant nutrients:

Vitamin E: Sunflower seeds, almonds, sunflower oil, safflower oil, canola oil, hazelnuts, pine nuts, spinach, turnip greens, beet greens, dandelion greens, canned pumpkin, carrot juice, broccoli, sweet potato, sweet red peppers, mangos, papayas

Carotenoids, such as Beta-Carotene (orange), Lycopene (red), and Lutein (yellow/green): Orange, red, and deep green veggies and fruits, particularlyCarrot juice, carrots, butternut squash, pumpkin (or any orange-colored winter squash), sweet potato, greens such as spinach, collards, kale, turnip greens, beet greens, avocados, orange melons such as cantaloupe, red peppers, apricots, broccoli, plums, mangos papayas, plantains, Brussels sprouts, watermelon, asparagus, tomatoes, watermelon, pistachios

Vitamin C: Citrus fruits such as orange, lemons and grapefruit, peaches, sweet and hot peppers, papayas, pineapple, strawberries, broccoli,kiwi fruit, sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts, kohlrabi

Flavonoids: Cocoa, green and black tea, citrus fruits, dark chocolate, red wine, apples, grapes, berries (read “Berry Bonanza” for more facts about berries), numerous fruits and vegetables. Tea is filled with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory nutrients, both of which reduce brain decline, and even slow down muscle and bone breakdown. Read about tea’s health benefits in my recent Washington Post article.

Fat Composition

Fat is an essential nutrient. But the type of fat you eat trumps everything. Fat ends up in all of your body’s cells, including your brain cells. It acts as a cell lubricant, improves flexibility and communication between cells. If the fat you eat is saturated – solid at room temperature – as in butter or animal fat – this stiffens and decreases cellular flexibility and functioning. Saturated fat also raises LDL cholesterol, and high cholesterol is correlated with cognitive decline. This may be why people who eat diets high in meat and animal fats suffer from a higher rate of dementia and Alzheimer’s.

A diet high in fish, on the other hand, is correlated with a reduced incidence of brain decline. Fish oil – omega-3-fatty-acid – concentrations are highest in the brain and nervous system. They are necessary for optimal functioning of the neurons, protect cells, decrease cell death and improve nerve transmission. Emerging research indicates Omega 3s may boost levels of the brain chemicals serotonin and dopamine, decreasing depression and violence.

“In 5 out of 6 of the clinical trials where people were given either a placebo or omega-3 fatty acids, on average, the symptoms of depression have been reduced by about 50%,” says Joseph Hibbeln, a psychiatrist at the National Institutes for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “This is true even when the subjects were already on anti-depressants and failing to respond to them.”

Hibbeln’s studies found an increase in depression, violence and homicides in countries who eat less fish as compared to countries who eat more fish. It may even improve conditions such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

B Vitamins

“Vitamin B12 and folate … are widely believed to be protective risk factors of cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease,” said  Martha Clare Morris. “Vitamin B12 deficiency results in a neurologic syndrome that involves impaired cognition. Recent interest in folate deficiency as a risk factor for dementia is primarily due to its effect on raising homocysteine concentration, which has been related to the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease…  Both low vitamin B12 and low folate status are associated with cognitive decline, and high folate exposure in persons with low vitamin B12 also may be associated with cognitive decline,” said Morris.

Balance is key, so eat food high in these nutrients instead of risking an imbalance caused by an overdose.

Folic Acid (Folate): Spinach, lentils, pinto beans, black beans, blackeyed peas, greens, soybeans, broccoli, asparagus

Vitamin B12: Found naturally only in animal foods such as seafood, chicken, beef, yogurt, milk

Smart Lifestyle

Physical Activity is the primary lifestyle factor impacting your brain’s health, as well as cardiovascular disease and diabetes prevention.

“Physical activity and exercise have been found, over the past several decades, to reduce the risk of a multitude of diseases including cardiovascular disease, breast and colon cancer, obesity, and type II diabetes,”  said Arthur F. Kramer, at the National Institutes of Health’s conference on brain function and preventing cognitive decline. “Many of these diseases have been associated with diminished cognitive and brain health and serve as risk factors for age-associated neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease. Therefore, physical activity appears to enhance cognition and brain health through disease reduction and prevention, but also has more direct effects on both brain health and cognition,” said Kramer, professor of psychology and neuroscience, Beckman Institute, University of Illinois, Urbana.

Mood 

During just one exercise bout, your brain releases chemicals called endorphins into the blood stream.  They reduce pain, increase feelings of well-being and elevate your mood.  If you are regularly physically active, these benefits multiply. A study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that a brisk 30-minute walk just three times a week relieved major depression just as effectively as an antidepressant in middle-aged and older people.

Mental Alertness

Physical activity increases the oxygen to your brain, particularly the frontal regions where it increases reaction times, as reported in the journal, Nature. Physical activity also improves memory, mental function and reduces your chances for dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.  Those who walked 18 miles or more per week experienced the most improvements. These studies were reported in the Archives of Internal Medicine and the journal, Neurology.

Social Networks

“A rich social network may provide better social support and consequently better access to resources and material goods. Large social networks also may enhance brain reserve by providing intellectual stimulation,” said Laura Fratiglioni at NIH’s conference on brain function and preventing cognitive decline. “In addition, neuropathological data have shown that subjects with a similar amount of neuropathological lesions had higher cognitive performances if they also had larger social networks,” said Fratiglioni, Professor of Geriatric Epidemiology, Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden.

Leisure Activities

Most studies have suggested “a protective effect of leisure activities, especially mentally stimulating activities, against dementia,” said Fratiglioni. “These activities, which include reading, playing board games and musical instruments, knitting, gardening, and dancing, often have been associated with a reduced risk of dementia. Furthermore, a recent review of prospective studies also has concluded that physical activity may reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s by approximately 45%. However, most physical activities also include social and mental components in addition to the physical component. Indeed, complex leisure activities composed of all three components of physical, mental, and social activities seem to have the most beneficial effect.”

Are you engaging in a “Smart” Lifestyle? Eating plenty of “Smart” foods? Please comment below in “comments,” and let me know how you are doing!

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Omega-3-Fatty Acids: Superstars of the Nutrition World

On CNN: Katherine Discusses 5 Good-For-You Foods to Include in Your Diet This Year!

I first became interested in the power of Omega 3 when  psychiatrists I work with began prescribing it for their depressed patients, finding it made positive improvements. Then I started hearing about its potential benefits for arthritis and other inflammatory diseases. Could it be possible that one nutrient could provide so many benefits?

The connection between Omega 3s and health was first observed in the 1970’s. Scientists observed that Greenland Eskimos had a reduced rate of heart disease, rheumatoid, arthritis and other ailments even though they ate a high fat and cholesterol diet. They hypothesized that the type of fat – marine derived – might play a role. Since then, study after study has confirmed that omega 3s in fish have a potent effect on reduction of heart disease.

Omega 3s work several ways in the heart. They prevent irregular heart beat, reduce fatty placques inside artery walls, decrease blood clotting, decrease triglycerides (blood fat), increase HDL (good cholesterol), and decrease inflammation.

“Omega 3 favorably effects a number of risk factors for cardiovascular disease and at the top of the list is reducing the risk of sudden death from heart attack,” says Penny Kris Etherton, distinguished professor of nutrition, Pennsylvania State University

But when it comes to the benefits of Omega 3’s that may be just the tip of the iceberg!

The two most potent omega 3 fatty acids are known as DHA and EPA. They’re usually found in a 50/50 or 60/40 ratio in fish. These fatty acids end up in every single cell membrane in the human body. They act as a cell lubricant, improve flexibility and communication between cells, and are important for cell metabolism and gene expression.

It’s been well-established that omega-3 fatty acids, a type of polyunsaturated fat found primarily in seafood, can improve your chances of living longer if you have heart disease. But its healing powers don’t stop there. Other organs may benefit. They have a positive impact from the womb to old age.

Omega 3’s reach is vast and the health benefits are intriguing the scientific community. While not an answer to every ailment, omega 3s are essential nutrients in the human body. Studies show that omega 3s may have significant physiological and psychological benefits.

In fact, Omega-3s are so important to human health, the National Academy of Sciences Food and Nutrition Board recently set a minimum daily requirement for the first time. For years we thought there was only one essential fatty acid, Omega 6 fatty acid (found in vegetable and soybean oils), but now scientists have added omega 3 to the list of essential nutrients humans must get from the diet.

But as we’ve discovered in nutrition, balance is everything. The two essential fatty acids, omega 6 and omega 3 must be in harmony with each other for proper functioning. If one or the other is too high or low, negative consequences result.

“If you eat too much omega 6, as is the case with today’s American diet, this promotes inflammation, blood clotting and constricts blood vessels,” says Artemis Simopoulos, president of the Center for Genetics, Nutrition and Health and the author of The Omega Diet (Harper Collins, 1999) “When your cells contain equal amounts of Omega 6 and Omega 3, as was the case with early humans, this promotes less inflammation, less constrictive blood vessels and prevents clot formation, all important functions in preventing many diseases.”

The ideal ratio of omega6 to omega3 is the hottest debate among omega3 researchers. Some say a ratio of 1:1 or even 2:1 is acceptable. If you followed the fatty acid recommendations of The National Academy of Sciences, and had an intake of 12 or 17 grams of omega 6 for women and men, respectively, and an omega 3 fatty acid intake of 1.1 and 1.6 for women and men, your ratio would be 10:1. But many omega 3 researchers say a ratio of 1:1 or even 2:1 or 5:1 is ideal. If you’re a typical American, your ratio could be as high as 12:1 or 15:1. Still others believe a specific ratio doesn’t matter. But they all agree on the need to get more omega3s.

Omega 3 concentrations are highest in the brain and nervous system. They are necessary for optimal functioning of the neurons, protect cells, decrease cell death and improve nerve transmission. Emerging research indicates Omega 3s may boost levels of the brain chemicals serotonin and dopamine, decreasing depression and violence.

“In 5 out of 6 of the clinical trials where people were given either a placebo or omega-3 fatty acids, on average, the symptoms of depression have been reduced by about 50%,” says Joseph Hibbeln, a psychiatrist at the National Institutes for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “This is true even when the subjects were already on anti-depressants and failing to respond to them.”

Hibbeln’s studies found an increase in depression, violence and homicides in countries who eat less fish as compared to countries who eat more fish. It may even improve conditions such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

Bone density may be enhanced by omega 3 intake.

“Osteoporosis is lower in populations who eat more fish, such as Asians, when compared to Europeans who eat more calcium-containing foods” says Bruce A. Watkins, Ph.D., nutrition professor at Purdue University. The mechanisms aren’t completely understood, but omega 3’s may help support bone formation.

Omega 3 may also benefit the skin. The Greenland Eskimo studies found they don’t suffer much from psoriasis, a skin disease causing painful inflammation, redness and scales in its sufferers.

Laboratory studies have found that omega 3s suppress the hyperproliferation of the skin cells, which causes the disease to spread. When tested in humans, after 10 weeks, 60% of the subjects experienced a decrease in the area of psoriasis and a decrease in proliferation and inflammation.

“The dose is very essential,” says the researcher, Vincent Ziboh,Ph.D., professor, dept of dermatology, Univ of Ca at Davis. “The work is promising, but more research is needed to understand the mechanism and doses, and why it works for some but not others.”

Just as omega 3s inhibit proliferation of skin cells which causes psoriasis, new research is finding it inhibits proliferation of cancer cells in the breast, prostate and colon. This is a new area of research which hasn’t been tested widely. But, a new study found breast cancer patients responded better to chemotherapy and the cancer was less likely to spread when patients were given omega 3 fatty acids.  There is epidemiological evidence that men who eat more fish have lower risk for prostate cancer.

There is evidence that omega3s may help prevent type 2 diabetes and improve diabetes by reducing insulin resistance.

The FDA recently approved Omega 3s for infant formulas because of the overwhelming evidence that it improves cognition and visual functioning in children. (mother’s breast milk provides it naturally, especially when she regularly eats fish)

Inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis, and Crohn’s disease may improve with omega 3 supplementation.

The studies are just beginning. More research needs to be done to understand who will benefit most from higher levels of omega 3 in their diets. Your genetics and environment play large roles in responsiveness to omega 3s. And while studies are very promising for a wide range of illnesses, the optimal amount of omega 3 and the ideal ratio of Omega 3 to Omega 6 are still hotly debated in the scientific community.

But what isn’t debated is that adult women need at least 1.1 grams and adult men need 1.6 grams daily, according to the Food and Nutrition Board of the National Academy of Sciences. Unfortunately, Americans don’t come even close to getting their omega 3 requirement. But we used to. Apparently, in our earlier evolutional stages, we ate plenty of wild greens, lean animals which grazed on high omega3 grasses, and fish high in Omega 3s, and our bodies evolved a need for it.

But today, omega 3s have largely been replaced with omega 6s, vegetables oils, especially soybean oil, which is used in large doses in processed foods and fast foods. And no longer do our animals graze on high omega 3 grasses, but on grains instead. This changes the fatty acid composition of the meat, to our detriment.

Most of the studies found a positive benefit with 500 to 1,000 mg of omega3s per day. The American Heart Association recommends all adults eat a variety of fish, particularly oily fish, at least twice weekly, which would provide an average of 500 mg daily. For patients with coronary artery disease, they recommend 1,000 mg daily, or double the seafood requirement (but never above 3,000 mg without a doctor’s supervision). Supplements are effective and may be used instead of eating the fish. Due to environmental pollutants found in fish, women of child-bearing age are recommended to keep their fish intake to no more than 12 ounces per week. But omega3 researchers believe the risk of not getting enough omega3 in your diet outweighs the potential risk of pollutants.

There are possible dangers to taking too much omega3 supplement. The inflammatory response is your immune system working, or overworking. This means that omega 3s are actually reducing your immune response when they reduce inflammation. So, large doses should be taken only with a doctor’s advice by people with compromised immune systems. There is also a slight increase in risk for hemorrhagic stroke or excessive bleeding.

As usual, I have to underscore balance.  It may be safer to stick with food sources so you don’t go overboard and are more likely to stay in balance.

There is a vegetable source of omega 3, known as ALA. It’s found in flax seed oil, walnuts, and canola oil. The omega-3 fatty acid, ALA, is one which has to be converted to DHA and EPA, which means vegetable sources are less potent than fish oil. But it’s still a great idea to include them in your diet.

Some values of Omega-3’s in 3-1/2 ounces of Fish

 

Fish                                         Omega-3’s (g)

Sardines in Sardine Oil           3.3

Atlantic Mackerel                   2.5

Atlantic herring                       1.6

Chinook Salmon                     1.4

Anchovy                                 1.4

Atlantic Salmon                      1.2

Tuna                                        0.5

Brook Trout                            0.4

Catfish                                                0.3

Shrimp                                     0.3

Flounder                                  0.2

Found in: S.L. Conner and W.E. Conner, “Are Fish Oils Beneficial in the Prevention and Treatment of Coronary Artery Disease?” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 66 (1997); 1020S – 1031S.

“Understanding Omega-3s” by Katherine Tallmadge, originally appeared in The Washington Post.

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