The Metabolic syndrome may not be a household phrase, but it should be. It’s been estimated that more than 30% of the U.S. population may have this disorder. It is defined as a cluster of symptoms that include excess fat around the waist, high blood sugar, high blood pressure, low levels of HDL and high triglyceride (blood fat levels). Diagnosis involves having at least three of these conditions.
The good news is that even a small weight loss (at least 10% of your current weight) may have a positive effect on your health.
Your brain is fed by the same blood vessels that keep your heart pumping – so it makes sense that when they become unhealthy or your blood pressure is too high, the damage can affect both your heart and mind.
So what foods are heart healthy are also brain healthy? Two diets that have gained positive attention are elements of the Mediterranean Diet and the DASH diet have been shown by a plethora of research to help reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. It is thought that these two dietary patterns help the brain by keeping blood flowing efficiently and reducing damaging inflammation. Both are low in saturated fat and recommend a diet heavy on plant foods and healthy fats with a low consumption of red meat, sugar, and processed foods.
There are certain components of healthy diets that can be top choices on what makes these diets stand out with healthy benefits:
Omega-3 fatty Fish Oils and Brain Health
Protecting Brain Structure: Myelin
The BASICS: Most all cells contain omega3s (EPA, DHA) and omega-6s in their cell membranes. Most nerve signals cannot be conducted without a special sheath called myelin and fatty acids like EPA and DHA are necessary for cell membrane structure. Myelin insulates the nerve fibers of nerve cells.
Brain cells are susceptible to damaging neurotoxins. Long-chain omega-3 fats, EPA and DHA are important for brain development, production of hormones and checking inflammation. Research has also shown that they lower blood triglyceride levels resulting in decreasing cardiovascular risks. A meta-analysis found that people with the highest consumption of omega-3, EPA and DHA have an association with a 14% risk reduction of death from any cause when compared to people who consume less. A new area of research has suggested that fish oils as EPA and DHA are involved in brain health. This is important since there is evidence that omega-3s can protect against neurotoxins that damage the nervous system including the brain.
1300 elderly women underwent MRIs of the brain to assess how much exposure they had to a type of air pollution called PM for three years prior to the MRI. PM pollution is known to have neurotoxic effects known to be linked to strokes, cognitive decline, and dementia. The new study was published in the journal, Neurology,
Results showed that “women with higher levels blood levels of fish oils (omega-3s) had significantly greater volumes in the brain areas (hippocampus) associated with cognition, and memory, and white matter which contains nerve fibers that connect brain cells. The results indicated that women with higher levels of omega-3s were protected against the brain-damaging effects of PM exposure”.
Improved Depression Symptoms
A meta-analysis published in Translational Psychiatry, researchers reported that relatively high dose supplements with a high concentration of EPA to DHA significantly improved the symptoms of mild to moderate depression (mood, sleep disturbances, and fatigue) in pregnant and postpartum women. Higher doses need to be given by primary care physicians.
The U.S. diet is sadly abundant in omega-6 fatty acids; however, on the other hand, sadly deficient in omega-3 fats —-but that’s another story.
Omega-3 fats contain antioxidants that help protect our cells from damage including the heart and brain. A study published in the June 2020 issue of Alzheimer’s & Dementia found that people who closely followed a Mediterranean Diet had a lower risk of developing cognitive impairment in the following 10 years, compared with those who did not follow that eating pattern. But people who ate the most fish had both a reduced risk of cognitive impairment and also slower cognitive decline when compared to those who ate less fish.
Substituting healthy plant oils like olive oil, sesame oil or canola oil for saturated fat such as butter, helps keep your mind healthy. These simple changes help to keep your blood vessels clear of damaging plaques. Extra-virgin olive oil is particularly rich in antioxidants.
Nuts are great as snacks since they are rich in fiber and protein. The least processed are the best choice.
Some nuts like walnuts, pecans, and chestnuts, contain high amounts of antioxidants. Also, walnuts are rich in a type of plant-based omega-3 fats called alpha linolenic acid which helps fight inflammation and cellular damage.
While not a part of the Mediterranean or DASH diets, plain coffee can provide a good source of antioxidants. However don’t over do it and hold the sugar and cream – two cups a day of black coffee is probably enough, research says.
Courtesy of Best Foods for Women’s Health, Women’s Health Guide, Harvard Medical School
Homocysteine is an amino acid produced in the body during the metabolism of a common dietary amino acid called methionine. Vitamins B6, B12, riboflavin and folate help breakdown homocysteine into other beneficial amino acids.
Deficiencies in these vitamins may lead to elevated homocysteine levels a condition known as hyperhomocysteinemia. When homocysteine levels are elevated, they are associated with the development of atherosclerosis, stroke, cognitive disorders, and hearing loss. Elevated homocysteine is a risk factor for vascular calcification progression suggested in a study published in 2020 in the Journal of the American Heart Association. It effects the calcification of arteries and heart valves and is considered an irreversible state. Homocysteine may also increase blood clotting, reduce the synthesis of HDL, (good cholesterol), and promote the oxidation of LDL which contributes to atherosclerosis.
When the MRI scans of 36 healthy volunteers between the ages of 59 and 85 were done, it was revealed that those with higher homocysteine levels had a greater loss of white matter, defined as brain tissue for nerve signal conduction.
There is some evidence that elevated homocysteine may indicated markers of Alzheimer’s disease progression in brain tissue including neurofibrillary tangles, dysfunction, dysfunctional protein accumulation, and brain shrinkage.
Studies have also shown that even modest elevations of homocysteine that occur within the normal range has been associated with a substantial increase in risk of dementia in the elderly.
It is recommended that if you have a history of heart disease or dementia, you should talk to your physician as there are simple blood tests to determine your homocysteine status. It is also recommended that if your levels go above the recommended levels, you have a choice to supplement your diet with a common multivitamin that contains vitamin B6, folate, B12, and riboflavin – they all work to lower homocysteine concentrations in the body. However, it is not necessary to take individual vitamins that are more costly and frankly a ‘lot of pills to take”. Vitamins are best coming from foods and check your health status to make sure there are no underlying conditions that might be caused by even a moderate vitamin deficit. Check your status with your primary care physician.
THE VITAMINS AT A GLANCE
Protein synthesis, nervous system
Numbness, weakness, loss of balance
Meats, cereal, bananas, potatoes sweet peppers
Overdose symptoms can mask multiple sclerosis
Protein synthesis, red blood formation
Can mask B12 deficiency (pernicious anemia)
Fortified grains, bread, pasta, dark green vegetables, dried beans
Prevention of neural tube defects in early pregnancy of embryo
Epigenetics is a hot topic right now and appears more in news articles as science makes further associations. It is becoming more obvious that our lifestyle and experiences can affect our genes and can be passed down to our children and grandchildren through genetic pathways.
Factors that can influence epigenetics can include: Diet, physical activity, sleep, stress, inflammation, chemicals products, UV rays, and environmental pollution.
DNA is the blueprint for the instructions for the entire body, but chemical tags called methyl groups make up what is called the epigenome to decide which genes are active – this is called methylation or gene expression. It is often referred to as an “on and off switch” that turns on or off certain genes. It is what makes identical twins different over time. Although our DNA code does not change, the epigenome is flexible and reacts to our environment. Our experiences help shape how genes are expressed.
DNA methylation works by adding a chemical group to specific places on the DNA as “tags” where it blocks the proteins that attach to the DNA to “read the gene”. This chemical group called a methyl group can be removed through a process called demethylation. Typically, methylations turn genes “off” and demethylation turns genes “on”.
Women are not solely responsible for the health of their future children. Science is finding that the health of a man’s unborn children can be affected by things like the man’s diet, life experiences and trauma, exposure to toxins and how old he is at conception.
DNA is not our destiny. Epigenetics is the study of how your behaviors and environment can cause changes that affects the way your genes work. Through epigenetic tags, parents’ experiences and lifestyle can affect the genes that are passed down to their children and grandchildren.
A proper lifestyle “turns on” protective genes and “turns off” disease-producing genes by their positive impact on the epigenome.
Why Should I Care About Epigenetics? Utah Valley Pediatrics, September 30, 2013
Obesity is a chronic condition characterized by excess body fat. Its origins are mulfifactorial including heredity, behavior and environment. Obese people are at risk of developing many diseases. In fact, obesity is the second most important predictor of cancer, preceded only by tobacco use.
Epigenetics refers to those elements of the genetic code that you are able to change without altering your DNA sequence. It includes which genes you express, to what degree and at what time. Consequently, epigenetic processes determine whether a specific gene is active or not at any given time. In the absence of further studies. Genes can be expressed or not expressed.
Your epigenetics develop in the uterus and continues to change throughout your life. A study in the Netherlands during the famine period of 1944-1945 demonstrated how genetics affects obesity. Fetuses of mothers exposed to extreme hunger experienced more glucose intolerance, dyslipidemia, early coronary heart disease, and obesity. Therefore, starving could cause some of the diseases that are prevalent in society today. These genes can be transmitted from generation to generation. Unlike the genome (the complete set of genes in a cell), the epigenome is reversible. Epigenetic marks can be modified throughout life. However, modificationss at critical periods of prenatal development have greater effects on the results. So DNA is not your destiny!!
Lead a healthy lifestyle prior to conceiving a baby, especially the mother; however, there are some indications that the father’s lifestyle can also be influential. Ideally, both expectant parents and the offspring should maintain good lifestyle habits to include healthy diets, physical activity, adequate sleep, stress reduction, and avoidance of inflammation.
We have all heard about the rising crime rates occurring in the U.S. Our first inclination is to wonder what could be going on in our country to cause this – or at least what is contributing to this disturbing shift of behavior?
“The issues of diet and criminal behavior are limited but intriguing. If you’ve ever found yourself in front of the TV after a bad day, mindlessly digging ice cream out of the container with a spoon, you know that mood and food are sometimes linked. But while stress eating is a verified phenomenon, the relationship between food and actual mood disorders, depression and even behavior needs some attention. Can dietary changes potentially improve our mental health.? What do the studies say?
Scientists looking for answers – Hints of a Link
Before, we jump into the science (research), some basics:
As we all know, our behavior is mostly controlled by our brain. Every organ in the human body requires nutrition to function properly and when it doesn’t get what it needs it functions abnormally. So, is there any reason that the brain should be an exception? The brain is a complex organ so that alone should be enough to assume that if it does not get the proper nutrition, it might just not work as well as it should.
Recent research offers a viewpoint that the brain and the gut “talk to each other” through the presence of the microbiome – the community of microorganisms that lives inside our digestive tract. When this communication channel is “out of whack” or missing essential nutrition, major health problems can crop up in both the mind and body, enabling food sensitivities, allergies, digestive disorders, obesity, depression, anxiety, and fatigue.
“A study indicated that when levels of the brain chemical serotonin decrease from stress or not eating, it affects the brain regions regulating anger, potentially resulting in “a whirlwind of uncontrollable emotions”.
“Prison studies suggest that many inmates have poor blood sugar control, compounded by a high-sugar diet. We all know how it feels when blood sugar drops – we feel moody, foggy. Apply that to someone from a disturbed backgound.”
In a randomized, placebo-controlled trial, Oxford criminologist Bernard Gesch found that giving prison inmates a multivitamin and fatty acid supplement led to violent offenses dropping 37% compared to 10% for those who were given a placebo – findings that were confirmed by a later Dutch study.
“In a large study of prison diets, Stephen Schoenthaler, Professor of Criminology and Sociology at California State University found that prisoner’s eating habits could be used to predict future violent behavior. Normally, past violent behavior is considered the best prediction of future violence. But professor Schoenthaler found that a poor diet is an even better predictor of violent behavior.”
He also found that that in a study of young offenders in California, young adult men receiving vitamin supplements showed a 38% drop in serious behavior problems.
The types of problems associated with poor diet, such as aggression, attention deficits and hyperactivity can make impulsive behavior more likely. Low levels of iron, magnesium and zinc can lead to increased anxiety, low mood, and poor concentration, leading to attention deficits and sleep disturbances. Omega-3 fatty acids, are often deficient in the U.S. diet and needed to improve cognitive functioning.
“No one blames a poor diet as a cause of crime, nor is it the only solution. But if better nutrition in general can bring about a substantial reduction in violent crime in and out of prisons, that would be something to cheer about. For isn’t a good diet, made up of good food, a better and less expensive solution than just hiring more police and building more prisons?”
Needless to say, The Standard American Diet (SAD) needs more attention for all of us, not just in our prison population. Simply, with the input of nutrition scientists, education of the consumer, and cooperation of the food industry, we desperately need more healthy food choices for our personal health and that of our food culture.
Schoenthaler, S.J., Ames, S. Dorax, W., et al (1997)
The effect of randomized vitamin mineral supplementation on violent and non-violent antisocial behavior among incarcerated juveniles. Journal of Nutritional and Environmental Medicine, 7:343-352.
The Conversation: Crime and Punishment – the link between food and offending behavior. Hazel Flight, John Marsden, Sean Creaney. 2018
The Guardian. Can Food Make You Angry? Rebecca Hardy. Wed.24 Apr 2013.
C. Bernard Gesch, Sean M. Hammond, Sarah E. Hampson, Anita Eves, and Martin J. Crowder
Influence of supplementary vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids on the antisocial behavior of young adult prisoners.British Journal of Psychiatry 2002, 181, 22-28
How to Live the Mediterranean Way and How to Feed Your Microbiome.
Each country around the Mediterranean Sea offers a rich bounty of delicious ingredients. Many authors have written about the Mediterranean Diet in terms of the health benefits that have been shown by an exhaustive array of scientific studies on its merits. The diet is now recognized as an “intangible cultural heritage” in Italy by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). It is a way of life and a way of eating, which the Italians call “Cucina genuina” or “cuisine of the poor”. This is the diet of those who work the land and feed themselves using seasonal ingredients grown in their small plots outside the kitchen”.
The following characteristics attempt to describe the “Americanized” version of how to live and eat the Mediterranean way – it is not just a diet but a gift to a healthier lifestyle.”
DIET:Eat food, not too much, mostly plants. (Micheal Pollan). Whole grains, unprocessed foods, fruits, and vegetables
Eat meat in moderation. Limit your saturated fat, sugar and salt intake. Snack on nuts. Reduces inflammatory foods
Practice mindfulness, smaller servings, early light dinners.
Biological Changes during Aging and Nutritional Consequences
S0URCE JUDITH E. BROWN, NUTRITION NOW, 7TH EDITION, 2013
The combined effects of poor diets, other risky behaviors, and biological aging increase the rates of serious diseases during adulthood. How soon a disease develops largely depends on the intensity of exposure to behavioral risks that contribute to disease development. These are often referred to as epigenetics (when the DNA is not altered, but environmental factors cause genes to be turned either on or off.)
What Are Some Nutritional Consequences?
Lowered stomach acidity may result in decreased absorption of vitamin B12? The consequences of getting less sun exposure may result in less production of vitamin D in the skin.
A person’s need for calories generally declines with age as physical activity, muscle mass, and basal metabolic rate decrease. However, when one chooses to continue their physical activity into their older years can maintain their muscle mass, experience less muscle, and bone pain, and gain less body fat than people who are inactive.
For the most part, the development of chronic disease in middle-age and older adults can be viewed as a chain that represents the accumulation over time of problems that impair cell functions. Each link that is added to the chain, or each additional insult to cellular function, increases the risk that a chronic disease will develop. The presence of a disease indicates that the chain has gotten too long – that the accumulation of problems is sufficient to interfere with the normal functions of cells and tissues.
Normal cell functions and health promotion are facilitated by healthful dietary lifestyles and other behaviors. For example:
Correcting obesity and stabilizing weight during the adult years tends to lengthen life expectancy.
Dietary intakes that correspond to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (MyPlate) or following a healthily diet pattern like the Mediterranean Diet is related to a longer life expectancy.
Maintaining adequate calcium, vitamin D, and protein intake and engaging in regular physical activity during the adult years may prevent or postpone the development of osteoporosis and help maintain muscle mass and strength.
Above average intake of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains may delay the development or help prevent a number of types of cancer, heart disease, hypertension, and cataracts.
The health status of adults is not necessarily ‘FIXED” by age.; it can change for the better or the worst, or not much at all. It’s up to you.
“Certain foods encourage inflammation and an anti-inflammatory diet avoids these foods. The body makes compounds called prostaglandins (eicosanoids) that can either be pro-inflammatory or anti-inflammatory. Both saturated fat and omega-6 unsaturated fat are building blocks for pro-inflammatory prostaglandins. Omega-6 fat is abundant in ulltraprocessed foods (not a good thing); it can contribute to an excessive inflammatory response.” How to Eat, Mark Bittman and David Katz, MD., page 61.
” Diets high in inflammatory foods were linked with global markers of brain aging and cerebral small vessel disease, on MRI. Bottom line: Smaller brain volume seen with diet-driven inflammation” See study below. “Systemic inflammatory processes in the body, including the brain, can be influenced by diet leading to its important contributory role in brain aging, the researchers observed.”