Omega 6 and Omega 3 Fatty Acids: The Good and the Bad

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Fat is a key nutrient in our diet and is often the first thing you may note on a food label. Most foods contain a mixture of many different types of fat: the commonest are saturated, monounsaturated, polyunsaturated and trans fats. Polyunsaturated fats are divided into two major families: omega-6 and omega-3’s. Are some good and some bad.? This conundrum is often debated among nutritionists and still a definitive answer remains elusive.

What exactly are the omega-6 and omega 3 fats?

We have to begin with the polyunsaturated essential fatty acids, linoleic (omega-6) (LA)  and alpha linolenic acids (omega-three) (ALA). They are called essential because they cannot be made in the body and must be acquired from the diet.

Linoleic acid (LA) is required for growth, healthy skin and normal functioning of the reproductive system and is a structural part of cell membranes.  Foods high in omega 6 fats include unhealthy foods like processed snacks, fast foods, cakes, fatty meats, and cured meats. Other omega 6 foods are healthy including tofu, walnuts, and peanut butter. They are also prevalent in vegetable oils, like corn oil, safflower, sunflower and soybean oils. Linoleic acid is converted in the body to another fatty acid called arachidonic acid (AA). Food sources of AA include meat, poultry, and eggs. The adequate daily intake (AI) for omega 6 foods is 17000 mg per day.

Alpha linolenic acid (ALA) is also a structural compound of cell membranes and found in high amounts in the brain. Alpha linolenic acid is found in walnuts, dark, leafy green vegetables, flaxseed and chia seeds, canola and soybean oils.

ALA is converted in the body to two more fatty acids called eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosapentaenoic acid (DHA) which is what you find on fish oil supplement labels. This conversion rate of ALA to EPA can be slow and may depend on many factors, one being the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids.

EPA and DHA are found in fish, krill, and algae oil capsules as well as in fatty fish like salmon, tuna, sardines, mackerel, herring and trout. The AI for omega-3 fatty acids is 1.6 grams (men) and 1.1 g (women).

Arachidonic acid and EPA are necessary for making hormone-like compounds called eicosanoids, hormone-like compounds that participate in regulation of blood pressure, blood clotting, inflammation, and a host of other important body functions.

So, the major players so far are: LA, ALA, AA, EPA, and DHA.

What is the omega-6/omega-3 ratio?

It is not enough to consume adequate levels of omega-3 fats but to avoid over-consumption of omega-6 fatty acids. Most modern diets contain excessive amounts of omega-6s and insufficient amounts of omega-3s. Americans regularly eat vegetable oils but eat fish infrequently, so we end up with many more omega-6s and fewer omega-3s.

The optimal 6 to 3 ratio approaches 4:1 that may be difficult for some people in our current food environment to achieve, so we try for 4:1 in hopes of realistically attaining less than 10:1. On average in the U.S., the omega-6 to omega-3 ratio is a disastrous 16:1. Soybean oil, an omega-6 is so ubiquitous in the food supply that an astounding percent of calories from fat in the American diet (especially processed foods) are estimated to come from this single omega-6 source.

How Do Eicosanoids Affect Health?

Omega-6 fatty acids produce eicosanoids that tend to favor higher blood pressure, more blood clotting, and inflammatory compounds in the body.  They are often referred to as “bad” eicosanoids.

Omega-3 fatty acids produce eicosanoids with opposing healthier effects, i.e., lower blood pressure, less blood clotting, and anti-inflammatory effects.  They are often referred to a “good” eicosanoids.

Eicosanoids from omega-3 EPA can diminish the effects of the “bad” eicosanoids by producing opposing compounds that will help tip the ratio back to a more favorable eicosanoid environment in the cell.

Another way to improve the fatty acid ratio is to help block excess arachidonic acid formation. By making sure your body has an adequate amount of EPA that acts as an inhibitor of the enzyme that can produces the “bad” eicosanoids.   The higher the EPA in the diet, the more the enzyme is inhibited, and the less “bad” eicosanoids are produced.

The problem with vegetable oils

“Vegetable oils that turn rancid easily have been used since lard was designated as having a high saturated fat content when the low-fat craze to prevent heart disease was in full swing. The troubled history of these oils has never been resolved.  In a series of workshops in the 1980’s, it was observed that using diets high in soybean oil showed subjects dying of cancer at very high rates. Gallstones were also associated with diets high in vegetable oils. Subsequent research demonstrated that these oils that are high in omega-6, compete with the healthier omega-3’s found in fish virtually at important spots in every cell membrane throughout the body, including those in the brain.” (Nina Teicholz, The Big Fat Surprise).

The vast amount of omega-6 that has entered our food supply via vegetable oils appear to have literally swamped the omega-3’s (the supply of which has remained relatively constant over the past century. (Teicholz,  page 275-6). Conversely, the American Heart Association encourages Americans to eat more vegetable oils due to their ability to lower LDL-cholesterol (the bad cholesterol.)

Nonetheless, excessive intake of polyunsaturated fatty acids, including omega-3 and omega-6, has several risks. The double bonds in the fatty acid molecules are very reactive. They tend to react with oxygen, forming chain reactions of free radicals. These free radicals can cause cell damage, which is one of the mechanisms behind aging and the onset of cancer.

If you want to improve your ratio of omega-6 to omega-3, it’s probably a bad idea to eat a lot of omega-3 to compensate. Having a relatively low, balanced amount of each is best. Using olive oil in salad dressings and coconut oil for cooking is recommended. Olive oil contains monounsaturated fat and coconut oil is more stable since it has more saturated fat content. Neither are part of the omega-6 or omega-3 families.

What to Take Away from all this:

Linoleic acid (LA), an omega-6 fatty acid, and α-linolenic acid (ALA), an omega-3 fatty acid, are considered essential fatty acids because they cannot be made in the body by humans.

Both omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids are important structural components of cell membranes, serve as precursors to eicosanoids and provide a source of energy. Long-chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in particular exert anti-inflammatory effects; it is recommended to increase their presence in the diet.

The long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), can be synthesized from ALA, but due to low conversion efficiency, it is recommended to consume foods rich in EPA and DHA or consume fewer omega-6 foods.

Some but not all observational studies using supplements have found fish intake to be associated with lower risks of cognitive deterioration and Alzheimer’s disease, but it is not yet clear whether supplementation with marine-derived omega-3 PUFA can help prevent cognitive decline. There is a great need for intervention studies, especially with DHA to determine if improvements in brain health will occur. The Rancho Bernardo Study of Healthy Aging found a protective effect of DHA from diet on various aspects of cognitive decline and/or dementia.

Best to cut down on omega-6 foods (processed and junk foods), add a couple of fish meals a week, use olive oil for salads, coconut oil for cooking.

Top 10 Foods with the Highest Omega 3 to Omega 6 Ratio

FoodRatio of Three to Six 
Snow crab (3 oz)61:1
Atlantic cod (6 oz)29:1
Tuna (6 oz)25 :1 
Mussels (3 oz)25:1
Broccoli Rabe (1 cup)7:1
Spinach (1 cup)5:1 
Flax seeds (1 oz) 4:1
Mangos (1 cup)3;1
Lettuce (1 cup)2:1
Kidney beans (1 cup)2:1

Sources:

Judith E. Brown. Nutrition Now Seventh Edition, 2013.

Life Extension, October 2019

Linus Pauling Institute, Oregon State University

COVID-19: Immune Boosters or Snake Oil?

Are We Just Talking Snake Oil?

In these days of the pandemic, there are promises and claims made that can cure or prevent the COVID-19 virus from occurring. Should you believe these claims or are they just snake oil? Sadly, most are not proven, and no safety or efficacy has been established. Some have stood the test of time as folklore, others, not so much.   I am not a promotor of taking diet supplements unless a doctor says you are deficient in certain vitamins or minerals.  But here is what is known about a few that can possibly end up on Dr. OZ.

Vitamins and Minerals

Vitamins C, D, A and the minerals zinc and selenium can be grouped together as they may help by shortening the duration of primarily respiratory diseases (colds, flu and Coronovirus).  Vitamin C and D both can act as a natural antihistamine and anti-inflammatory compound. You can get required amounts as a multi-vitamin-mineral compound – there is no need to take them individually or use mega-doses.

Garlic

Fresh, aged extract and garlic supplements may reduce the severity of respiratory infections. It has been described as: lipid-lowering, antithrombotic, antimicrobial, antiviral, and antiparastitic. Garlic has also been shown to fight the common cold (often caused by Coronoviruses.)  It also should be mentioned that in the world’s oldest medical text, the Egyptian Ebers Papyrus, garlic is mentioned repeatedly. It was also reported that it was fed to slaves and soldiers in the ancient world to keep them healthy. And of course we all know that it has warded off vampires in almost any Dracula movie in history.

But back to research – Seventy patients were given a high-quality standardized garlic supplement for 12 weeks while another group were given a placebo. The garlic group had only 24 colds during the study, compared to 65 for the placebo group. The average duration of symptoms was less than half for those taking the garlic.

Of course, this is only one study, however, the active garlic ingredient called allicin was written about way back in 1944 in a paper published in the Journal of the American Chemistry Society.

Beta-glucans – What are They?

Beta-glucans are large molecules made up of multiple sugar units—beta-glucan may offer a number of health benefits, including lowering cholesterol, improving blood sugar management, and boosting the immune system. As a soluble fiber, beta-glucan itself is not digested, however, it slows food transit in the intestines. Studies report when beta-glucans bind to immune cells like natural killer cells (NK cells), T-cells and macrophages, the activity of these cells is increased.

Many studies have supported the idea beta-glucans have a wide range of protective effects, including improved resistance to infections, liver protection, and cardiovascular benefits. It also appears to help inhibit tumor growth in mice. Americans need more fiber in their diets – so this compound can help provide the amount we need daily.

Sulforaphane

“Sulforaphane has also been shown to have antiviral properties. Studies have shown that sulforaphane reduces viral load in the nose, increases NK (natural killer)  cell production, displays antiviral activity against H1N1 Influenza virus, and can suppress replication of Hepatitis C Virus and inhibit HIV infection of macrophages through Nrf2. Interestingly, heat shock proteins which are produced upon sulforaphane consumption are also known to have antiviral properties. This is a quote from the web page, Orthomolecular.org. This site promotes using megadoses of nutrients and claims are made that have not been investigated (to my knowledge).

NOTE: Since sulforaphane can be easily obtained by consuming cruciferous vegetables that include broccoli, Brussels’ sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, and kale. No need to take ultra-processed supplements that may not contain any or all of the  beneficial nutrients found in “real” foods. Sulforaphane is also purported to be a potent cancer fighter and there is some evidence to support these claims.

Elderberry

Elderberries are the dark purple fruit of the elderberry shrub. A rich source of antioxidants known as anthocyanins, elderberry is reputed by some to be effective in treating the common cold, flu, constipation, hay fever, and sinus infections. Others contend that it may be useful in treating toothache, sciatica, and burns, among other things, but some of these claims are less supported by research than others.

The European elder (black elderberry, Sambucus nigra) is the species most often used in supplements, although other elder species also produce anthocyanin-rich berries. There are several elderberry supplement options and preparations, such as gummies, lozenges, syrups, teas, and more.

Many of elderberry’s health benefits can be attributed to anthocyanin. As an antioxidant, anthocyanin works by clearing the body of free radicals that damage cells at the DNA level.1 It also has antiviral properties that may prevent or reduce the severity of certain common infections.

Elderberry also exerts anti-inflammatory effects, reducing swelling and pain by tempering the body’s immune response.

Elderberry juice syrup has been used for centuries as a home remedy to treat the cold and flu, both of which are caused by a virus. The syrup is believed to reduce the severity and duration of the infection if taken within 48 hours of the first symptoms. Some preliminary evidence from small studies supports this claim.

A 2016 study from Australia reported that, among 312 long-haul airline passengers, those who used elderberry extract 10 days before and five days after their flight had 50 percent fewer sick days resulting from a cold than those who didn’t.  In addition, passengers who used elderberry had less severe colds based on a scoring of upper respiratory tract symptoms.

What elderberry did not appear to do was reduce the risk of getting a cold; both the elderberry group and placebo group had more or less the same number of infections.

However, a 2012 study suggested that elderberry could help prevent influenza infection by stimulating an immune response. Choose a low-sugar capsule or tablet, not as a sugary syrup.

Source: Elderberry: Benefits and Dangers.  https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/elderberry

 Buyer Beware

If you choose a supplement, take them in moderation and inform your doctor as some could be antagonistic toward other prescription drugs you have been prescribed. Keep in mind the following found on dietary supplement labels: “These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not inteneded to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any dieaase.”

Sources:

University of Maryland Medical System: Immunity Support Boosters

For a comprehensive list (it’s very long), search COVID-19 Schemes, Scams and Misinformation,

Stephen Barrett, M.D., William M. London, Ed.D, MPH July 18, 2020

COVID-19 and Vitamin D?

Can Vitamin D Prevent or Ameliorate Covid-19 Infections?

Previous research has reported that vitamin D can increase the incidence and severity of infectious diseases like influenzas or the common cold. The question remains as to whether this applies to Covid-19 infections.

The primary role of vitamin D is to aid the absorption of calcium and phosphorus for bone formation and muscle function.  A deficiency can also increase the risk of chronic inflammation, a common cause of several major chronic diseases.

Vitamin D is produced to its most active form from cholesterol in skin cells upon exposure to ultraviolet rays from the sun.

Inadequate vitamin D status is common. It is reported that vitamin D deficiency can be common in the elderly, homebound or darker skinned individuals. Obesity is another risk factor for severe COVID-19 and low levels of vitamin D are commonly found in these patients.

Another primary function of Vitamin D is known to reduce inflammation and can stimulate the release of anti-microbial proteins that kill viruses and bacteria. A study at Northwestern University suggests that vitamin D could suppress what is known as the “cytokine storm” that has been reported be fatal in some coronavirus patients.

People are scrambling to the supplement stores for vitamin D, but there are certain caveats to supplementation at high doses of any supplement on the market, including vitamin D.  Here is what you should know about its efficacy and/or safety.

It can become very easy to be deficient in vitamin D since it is found in very few foods like fatty fish, egg yolks and fortified milk (not commonly found in the highly processed Standard American Diet).

It is recommended that people ask their doctors for a blood test to determine their vitamin D status.  Deficiency is defined as a blood level below 10 nanograms per milliliter. Blood levels of 20-50 nanograms per milliliter are generally considered normal.

The Institute of Medicine recommend that most adults get 600 International Units (IU) of vitamin D from food and supplements daily or 800 IU if they are 70 years or older. Most experts agree that D is safe at doses up to 2000 IU and that 4000 IU a day is established as the Tolerable Upper Intake. The dose you take should be established by your physician and your blood levels. Toxicity is possible with long-term use of 10,000 IU daily.

The consequences of overdose include:

  • Mental retardation in young children
  • Abnormal bone growth and formation.
  • Nausea, diarrhea, irritability, weight loss.
  • Deposition of calcium and organs such as the kidneys, liver and heart.

What the Research Shows

A recent study at the University of Chicago reviewed the medical records of about 4300 patients who had been tested for COVID-19 early last spring. After controlling for factors like age, race, and chronic medical illness, they found that people with a vitamin D deficiency before the pandemic began were 77% more likely to test positive for COVID-19 compared to people who had normal levels of vitamin D.

 Other studies have mixed results, however some researchers feel that there is enough compelling evidence to suggest that a randomized trial is needed to specifically test to see whether assigning people to take vitamin D every day will reduce the severity of their illness, if infected. People are bombarded recently with supplement companies promoting high doses of vitamin D – trials are also needed for consumers to make intelligent and safe choices regarding their health.

Source:

Judith E. Brown, Nutrition Now. 7th Edition

Anahad O’Connor, Exploring the Links Between Coronovirus and Vitamin D. The New York Times, June 10, 2020.

Nutrition News!!

Nutrition News: What You Need to Know

A Rise in Metabolic Syndrome

Half of U.S. adults age 60 or older now have what is called metabolic syndrome – a cluster of symptoms that raise the risks of heart disease, diabetes, and stroke. Talk to your doctor if you have three or more of the following:

  • A large waist circumference
  • Low HDL (the “good” cholesterol)
  • High triglycerides
  • High blood pressure
  • A high fasting blood sugar leveL

A HEALTHY LIFESTYLE CAN CUT the  RISK!!

DO YOU NEED VITAMIN D? 

The Facts:

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin found in two forms, Vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol) and D3 (cholecalciferol). The RDA for women and men is 15 mcg or 600 UL and the UL is 100 mcg (4,000 IU  The primary functions are: needed for absorption of calcium and phosphorus and their utilization in bone formation, and nerve and muscle activity. It also inhibits inflammation and is involved in insulin secretion and blood glucose level maintenance. You may have seen lately the claim that it is needed especially in older adults for the prevention and/or treatment for COVID-19; however, so far there is no solid evidence to support that.

There is some preliminary evidence that it may offer some antiviral responses against the risk of respiratory infections in general and boost the ability of lung cells to fight bacteria and viruses. A large meta analysis)  published in 2017 in BMJ (British Medical Journal) concluded that taking a D supplement with anywhere from less than 800 IU to more than 2000 IU reduced the risk of having at least one respiratory tract infection. Those most deficient saw the most benefits, and there is “no trial that has shown any benefit for giving vitamin D in any population that is getting enough vitamin D,” says F. Michael Gloth, III, M.D., an associate professor of geriatric medicine at Johns Hopkins University Medical School.

About 50 percent of people aged 60 and older take a D supplement and for some, it may useful. About 80% of older adults don’t get enough D in their diet as well as there are few food sources of vitamin D, since we make our own D in the skin.  Because of this, The National Academy of Medicine recommends 600 IU of vitamin D a day up to age 70; 800 IU daily after that. Ultimately, whether to get tested or take a supplement comes down having this discussion with your doctor.

Lifestyle habits can make a difference:

  • Don’t smoke – smoking depletes many vitamins and limit your ability to make vitamin D.
  • People carrying extra weight often have low D levels. Losing that extra weight may boost D levels.
  • Physical activity may increase vitamin D levels.
  • Getting enough sun – just 15 to 20 minutes a day on face, arms, legs, back without sunscreen can give a healthy dose. This can be harder in the winter or if you have darker skin.
  • Diet can help a little – cow’s milk and plant milks are usually fortified as well as some juices and cereals. Fatty fish and egg yolks help.
  • People with bowel disease or metabolic problems can affect D absorption. A simple blood test is often recommended by your doctor. Consult with your doctor who can help you with testing your individual levels, no matter what your age or health status.

Source: CRConsumer Reports On Health, October, 2020

What is the difference betwwen ALA, EPA, and DHA  Omega 3 fatty acids?

Both nuts and fish contain healthy omega-3 fatty acids. They help fight inflammation, boost brain and heart health and ensure healthy fetal development.   However there are three omega-3 fats (ALA, EPA and DHA) that differ in how we acquire them in our diets. The omega-3 from nuts is primarily ALA, while EPA and DHA are found preformed in fish. and algae. Here are the facts:

  • Omega-3 ALA cannot be created in our bodies and must, therefore be acquired from diet or supplements.
  • ALA is good but EPA and DHA are better (EPA for inflammation and DHA for brain/heart health. Your brain is made up of 58% DHA by dry weight.
  • Although we are technically able to synthesize our own EPA and DHA from ALA, we don’t do so very efficiently (in fact, the rates of conversion are quite low at 3% and 19%, respectively).
  • So if you’re vegetarian or simply don’t like fish, you may need to supplement your diet with EPA/DHA from fish or look for vegetarian omega-3 supplements that derive EPA and DHA from algae. Simply, that is where the fish get it.

Source: Tufts Health & Nutrition Letter

Diet Supplements: Beliefs and Reality

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Consumers tend to believe that dietary supplements:

  • Have fewer side effects than prescription drugs.
  • Are approved by the FDA.
  • Will improve and maintain health.
  • Are safe, high quality, and effective.
  • May replace conventional medicines.

DIETARY SUPPLEMENT REALITIES

  • FDA does not approve, test, or regulate the manufacture or sale of dietary supplements.
  • The FDA has limited power to keep potentially harmful diet supplements off the market.
  • Dietary supplements may not have been tested for safety or effectiveness before they are sold.
  • Dietary supplements often do not list side effects, warnings, or drug or food interactions on product labels.
  • Ingredients listed on supplement labels may not include all active ingredients.
  •  Dietary supplements may not relieve problems or promote health and performance as advertised.
  • One of the most serious consequences of supplements results when they are used as a remedy for health problems that can be treated, but not by vitamins or minerals. Vitamin and mineral supplements have NOT been found as yet to prevent or treat heart disease, cancer, diabetes, hypertension, premature death, behavioral problems, sexual dysfunction, hair loss, autism, chronic fatigue syndrome, obesity, cataracts or stress. Some such as vitamin E, vitamin C and beta-carotene may be harmful to certain groups of people. If taken, dosages should not be excessive.

Judith Brown, Nutrition Now, 2013.

The recent pandemic brings with it its schemes, misinformation, and claims for combating the virus. The supermarket tabloid covers feature various foods to eat to avoid viral infections.  Always consult with your doctor about these claims. And thanks to Quackwatch,  you can find  a very comprehensive guide about COVID-19 claims HERE.

Vitamin D and Infectious Disease

Vitamin D Foods

Immunologic Effects of Vitamin D on Human Health and Disease

Affiliations

Free article

Abstract

Vitamin D is responsible for regulation of calcium and phosphate metabolism and maintaining a healthy mineralized skeleton. It is also known as an immunomodulatory hormone. Experimental studies have shown that 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D, the active form of vitamin D, exerts immunologic activities on multiple components of the innate and adaptive immune system as well as endothelial membrane stability. Association between low levels of serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D and increased risk of developing several immune-related diseases and disorders, including psoriasis, type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, tuberculosis, sepsis, respiratory infection, and COVID-19, has been observed. Accordingly, a number of clinical trials aiming to determine the efficacy of administration of vitamin D and its metabolites for treatment of these diseases have been conducted with variable outcomes. Interestingly, recent evidence suggests that some individuals might benefit from vitamin D more or less than others as high inter-individual difference in broad gene expression in human peripheral blood mononuclear cells in response to vitamin D supplementation has been observed. Although it is still debatable what level of serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D is optimal, it is advisable to increase vitamin D intake and have sensible sunlight exposure to maintain serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D at least 30 ng/mL (75 nmol/L), and preferably at 40-60 ng/mL (100-150 nmol/L) to achieve the optimal overall health benefits of vitamin D.

This abstract and article was published in Nutrients, 2020: 12(7), 2097

In light of the current Covid-19 pandemic, questions are raised and answers sought about the role of nutrition in the prevention of infectious diseases. In this case, vitamin D (a fat soluble vitamin stored in the body) is examined.

Vitamin D Facts:

RDA Women: 600 IU; Men: 600 IU; UL: 4000 IU. Toxicity possible with long-term use of 10,000 IU daily. 1 microgram (mcg) vitamin D = 40 IU.

Primary Functions: Needed for absorption of calcium and phosphorus for bone formation nerve and muscle activity. Inhibits inflammation and is involved in insulin secretion and blood glucose level maintenance.

Consequences of Deficiency: Weak, deformed bones (children), loss of calcium from bones (adults), osteoporosis.

Concenquences of Overdose: Mental retardation in young children, abnormal bone growth and formation. Nausea, diarrhea, irritability, weight loss. Deposition of calcium in organs such as kidneys, liver and heart.

Primary Food Sources: Vitamin D – fortified milk, cereals, and other foods. Fish

Highlights: Vitamin D3, the most active form is manufactured from a form of cholesterol in skin cells upon exposure to ultraviolet rays from the sun. Inadequate vitamin D status is common. Breast-fed infants with little sun exposure benefit from vitamin D supplements. People with very dark skin, especially from Asian and Afro-Carribbean descent find it difficult to make vitamin D from limited sunlight.

NOTE: It’s important to know that megadoses of any vitamin or mineral are never recommended, unless there is a medical reason for doing so. In this case, a Canadian study reported that among 303 middle-aged and older adults (who were not vitamin D deficient), those who were randomly assigned to get 4,000 IU  of vitamin D  a day for 3 years lost more bone in their arms  than those who got 400 IU a day. Those who got 10,000 IU a day lost more bone in their arms and shins than those who got 400 IU a day.  See the consequences of overdose. 

 

 

There’s A Supplement for That!!

By Sally J. Feltner, M.S.,Ph.D

In 1994, Congress passed the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act that loosened the regulation requirements that ultimately favored the manufacturers and led to an explosion of the dietary supplement market.
As a result, the FDA now has minimal regulation over testing prior to marketing concerning the safety or effectiveness of any supplement. Any testing is the responsibility of the manufacturer so it becomes difficult to “prove” any safety issues that may be present.

Since 1994, the FDA has taken action against many products because they contain prescription drugs or contaminants. Most of the products under scrutiny were labeled for use as sexual enhancement, body building, and weight loss.

Dietary Supplement Labeling:

Fortunately, what goes on the label is regulated. Structure/function claims can advertise  how the product affects normal body structures (such as “helps maintain strong bones”) or functions. Claims such as “improves circulation”, “prevents wrinkles” “supports the immune system”, and “helps maintain mental health” can be used, whereas “prevents heart disease”, “cures depression” cannot be.

If a function claim is made, the labeling has this warning: “This statement has not been evaluated by the FDA. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.” So who needs them?

Take the Case of Robert
Robert is 70 years old and has always been healthy. Recently, he experienced a few episodes of forgetfulness but thought nothing of it and attributed it to old age. Then he began feeling tired and having tingling in his hands and feet, difficulty walking, and diarrhea. He finally made a doctor’s appointment.

His blood test revealed he had a vitamin B12 deficiency and after a diet history, the doctor noticed he ate very little meat or dairy.  Due to his age, the doctor explained the deficiency could be caused by a condition common in older adults that reduces the ability to absorb  the vitamin and suggested he start to take a daily supplement containing the vitamin. He also gave him an injection of vitamin B12 in case the vitamin was not being adequately absorbed by Robert.

Who may benefit from vitamin and mineral supplements? 

  • People with a diagnosed vitamin and/or mineral deficiencies
  • Newborns (vitamin K)
  • Vegans (vitamin B12 and D)
  • Pregnant women (folate and iron)
  • Elderly persons on limited diets (multivitamin/minerals)
  • People on restricted diets (multivitamins/minerals)
  • People at risk for osteoporosis (calcium, vitamin D)
  • People with alcoholism (multivitamin/minerals)
  • Elderly people diagnosed with vitamin B12, vitamin D and/or folate deficit

Guidelines for Using Vitamin and Mineral Supplements
Purchase products with USP (U.S. Pharmacopeia or the CL symbol (Consumer Laboratories) – tested for purity, ingredients, and dose.
Choose supplements containing 100% of the Daily Value or less.
Take supplements with meals.
Tell your health care provider about the supplements you take. Some may affect your prescription medications.

Nonvitamin NonMineral Supplements

Fatty Acids: Omega-3’s, fish oils, DHA and EPA, flaxseeds

Claims: To reduce heart disease and enhance brain function. This claim has recently been disputed and needs further research as to its effectiveness.

Omega-3s compete with omega-6s (vegetable oils like corn oil, soybean oil, safflower seed oil) for conversion to eicosanoids that help regulate blood clotting, inflammation, and blood pressure in the body.
Problem: We have far more 6’s in the food supply than we have 3’s. They work best at a ratio of 4:1 but instead we have 20:1 in favor of 6’s.

Flaxseeds contain alpha-linolenic fatty acid that can be be converted to EPA and DHA in the body; but this is not very efficient in humans and decreases as we age. EPA and DHA are the active forms which can lower inflammation and blood clotting factors. That is why we should eat EPA and DHA directly from fish instead of relying on their conversion in the body from alpha-linolenic acid.

Bottom Line:

  • Found to not be very effective in reducing heart attacks in supplement form.
    Best to get them eating fatty fish 2-3 times a week. (salmon, trout, tuna)
    Possible problems with mercury and contaminants in fish (farmed and wild-caught
    Fish oil supplements not recommended for anyone taking blood thinner medications.

Enzyme Supplements

Enzymes are proteins that are  broken down in the small intestine to amino acids; thus, the original enzyme and its functions are not intact – so little if any effect can be gained from taking them in their enzyme form.

One exception: Some are made to work in the digestive tract before they are broken down. For example, lactase breaks down lactose and is helpful to people who are lactose intolerant.

So, if these are not specially coated to protect them as they are in cystic fibrosis, most enzyme supplements are totally useless to the body.  Healthy people make their own digestive enzymes in the pancreas and small intestine.

Hormone Supplements
Many marketed to athletes to replace the desirable steroid hormones that enhance muscle growth and strength and can be dangerous, like growth hormones. Again, without putting them to the test, there is no way to measure their safety or effectiveness.

Melatonin:
Not a protein, but a steroid hormone made in the pineal gland in the brain.
Marketed as a sleep aid and help with jet lag.
Claimed to improve sleep duration and quality
Somewhat effective
Dose is important – start low.

Coenzyme Supplements:
Coenzymes are enzyme helpers, such as coenzyme Q10.
Needed as an electron carrier in the final steps of energy (ATP) production
Are often claimed to be needed when statins are taken. .
This can cause side effects of statins of muscle pain and weakness.
Some studies show benefits of reduced pain – but not all

Herbal Remedies
As with all supplements, they are only as good if they are effective and safe (some are not). Human studies with herbal remedies have helped identify which herbals and supplements lack beneficial effects or have adverse effects. Some can pose a health risk. Results of most studies are mixed.

Guidelines for Herbal Use

  • Don’t use for serious, self-diagnosed conditions.
    Let your doctor know what herbals you take.
    Clear the use of herbal remedies with your doctor if you take prescription meds.
    Do not use if attempting or are pregnant.
    Don’t mix herbal remedies.
    If you are allergic to certain plants, make sure the same is not true of the chosen herbal supplement.
    Buy herbs with the USP label or have the CL label.

Functional Foods
Generally taken to mean food or food ingredients that may provide a health benefit beyond the effects of traditional nutrients it contains

Examples of functional foods with proposed health benefits include:

  • Stanol and sterol fortified margarines, psyllium fiber, whole oat products – reduced blood levels of LDL cholesterol
  • Omega-3 acids – reduce blood triglycerides – must be in high doses
  • Cranberry juice extracts – decreased urinary tract infections
  • Folic-Acid fortified breads and cereals – decreased neural tube defects
  • Probiotics – decreased risk of infections, lactose intolerance, diarrhea

DISCUSSION:

According to Marion Nestle, author of Unsavory Truths, and Food Politics – Paulette Goddard Professor of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health, emerita, at New York University, Visiting Professor of Nutritional Sciences at Cornell:

“I wrote extensively about the paucity of evidence for the value of dietary supplements for anyone who eats enough of a reasonably varied diet. The supplement industry funds many studies that demonstrate health benefits from taking one supplement or another, but studies funded independently usually do not – and sometimes suggest that taking nutrients in pill form can be harmful.”

Don’t be fooled by the claims made by the purveyors of dietary supplements – In my opinion, most are more than likely no better than the remedies peddled by our ancestors, i.e., the snake oil salesmen. Lately some supplements have become very expensive (my opinion) and the consumer has the right to know whether to spend hard earned money on these products or not. To put it simply – Buyer Beware,

 

Is Fish Brain Food? The Omega Fats Explained

The major food sources for LA are sunflower, safflower, corn, and soybean oils. LA can also be converted to another fatty acid called omega 6 arachidonic acid (AA) found in meats and animal products. LNA is found in walnuts, dark, leafy green vegetables, flaxseed, canola and soybean oils.

LNA can be converted at various rates to other omega-3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). You may have seen these on fish oil supplement labels. We can get EPA and DHA directly by eating fish and fish oils or by taking supplements.

So far the major lipid players consist of LA and AA that are omega-6 fats and LNA, EPA and DHA that are omega-3 fats. For those of you who are still with me, that’s the hard part. For keeping this simple, this post will mainly concentrate on the functions of the three and six families, with little to none of the nine family.

Is Fish a Brain Food?

The fact remains that nutrition science is becoming more aware of the impact of lifestyle factors in the prevention of chronic diseases. The overall number of Americans afflicted with dementia is expected to triple by the year 2050. Whether you become a victim has a lot to do with your health behavior patterns.

Recently there was a major study in 2019 that looked at the effects of certain foods and food components on cognitive function. A group of 116 elderly Americans with an average age of 69 underwent cognitive testing, MRI scans to assess brain function and structure, and blood tests to assess nutrient status.

The Results: The results identified six categories of  nutrients found in the blood associated with enhanced cognitive performance that measured general intelligence, executive function, and memory. The nutrients associated with improved cognitive performance included carotenoids (antioxidants), folate, B6, B12, Vitamin D, and a healthy balance  or ratio  of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids.

MRI imaging revealed enhanced brain network connectivity in those with healthy balances of omega-6/omega-3 fatty acids which will be the  focus of this post. For  those who had more vascular risk factors (smoking, high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity) the MRI imaging showed greater brain shrinkage and less gray and white matter in brain tissues.

What is a  balanced ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 fats in the diet?

Most modern diets contain excessive amounts of omega-6s and insufficient amounts of omega-3s. Americans regularly eat processed food and vegetable oils but eat fish infrequently so we end up with many more omega-6s and fewer omega-3s.

The recommended ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids in the diet is 4:1 or less, ideally 1:1.  On average in the U.S., the omega-6 to omega-3 ratio is a disastrous 16:1.

Therefore, although omega-6 fats are essential in the right quantities, most people in the developed world should aim to reduce their omega-6 intake. Refined vegetable fats such as soybean oil  are used in cookies, crackers, sweets, salad dressings and most fried foods.  For example, a meal from a fast food restaurant  consisting of a fried chicken sandwich and salad can result in over 17000 mg of omega-6 fats being eaten. And it gets worse. One serving of crunchy onion rings contain 30, 989 mg. of omega-6 (from Applebee’s). If you have a salad with soybean or safflower oil dressing, you’d consume about 7,200 mg of additional omega-6 fats. In contrast, a typical serving of wild salmon may provide 2,000 mg of omega-3.

Top 9 Foods with the Highest Omega 3 to Omega 6 Ratio (Try to get close to a 4:1 ratio)

Food Ratio of Three to Six 
Snow crab (3 oz) 61:1
Atlantic cod (6 oz) 29:1
Tuna (6 oz) 25 :1 
Mussels (3 oz) 25:1
Broccoli Rabe (1 cup) 7:1
Spinach (1 cup) 5:1 
Flax seeds (1 oz)  4:1
Mangos (1 cup) 3;1
Lettuce (1 cup) 2:1

The authors of this 2019 study advocate for drastic reductions in ingested omega 6 and increases in omega 3. They advise that for each milligram of omega 6 that you eat, consume about an equal amount of omega-3 fats. That may prove difficult in our current U.S. food environment. This is especially true if you are not a fish lover. Although not a fan of dietary supplements, in this case, a good quality supplement of fish oils (EPA and DHA) may be prudent.  Look for brands with the USP label or the Consumer Lab (CL) label for purity, safety and efficacy. A major supplement provider recommends 2400 mg a day of fish oils (EPA/DHA. (Life Extension)

But wait, there’s more!  What in the Heck are Eicosanoids and How Do they Function in the Body?

Omega-6 fatty acids produce compounds called eicosanoids from arachidonic acid (AA) that tend to favor higher blood pressure, more blood clotting, and inflammatory compounds in the body. These events are associated with a higher risk for heart disease. They are often referred to as “bad” eicosanoids.

Omega-3 fatty acids produce eicosanoids from EPA with opposing effects, i.e., lower blood pressure, less blood clotting, and anti-inflammatory effects.  They are often referred to a “good” eicosanoids.

effects-of-eicosanoids-derived-from-omega-3-and-omega-6-fatty-acids

How do you help block excess arachidonic acid formation? By making sure your body has an adequate amount of EPA and LNA that compete with AA  for an enzyme that acts as an inhibitor of the “bad” eicosanoids.   The higher the EPA and LNA in the diet, the more the enzyme is inhibited and the less “bad” eicosanoids are produced

The Bottom Line:

What to do? Using olive oil in salad dressings and coconut oil for cooking is recommended. Olive oil contains monounsaturated fat and coconut oil is more stable since it has more saturated fat content. Neither of these participate in the production of eicosanoids as well as olive oil contains neutral fats from the nine family of fatty acids.

Eating less processed foods and/or fast foods goes a long way to bring that ratio from 16:1 closer to a healthier 4:1. Your heart and your brain may thank you.

Sources:

Judith E. Brown. Nutrition Now Seventh Edition, 2013.

Life Extension, October 2019

Linus Pauling Institute, Oregon State University

Zwilling, CE, Talukdar T., Zamroziewicz, MK, et al. Nutrient biomarker patterns, cognitive function, and fMRI measures of network efficiency in the aging brain. Neuroimage. 2019, Mar;188:239-51.

 

 

Is Vitamin C a Valid Treatment for COVID19?

Just read an extensive article concerning the claims that intravenous vitamin C  therapy could be a valid treatment for COVID19. This therapy has been around for decades or at least since the 1970’s when the Nobel Prize winner, Linus Pauling promoted its oral use for curing or preventing the common cold and even as a cancer treatment. Proponents have once again emerged with the same claims concerning COVID19 virus treatment and/or cure with Intravenous vitamin C.

Bottom Line: There is no evidence that this occurs. According to one physician of Orthomolecular Medicine: “if you test people with pneumonia, Influenza or COVID19, you can measure and see that their vitamin C levels are low”; this tells us little if nothing.

Orthomolecular medicine promotes the premise that extremely high doses of natural substances help the body to address illness. For example, the Daily Value for vitamin C is only 90 mg/day (more than enough to prevent scurvy).  In orthomolecular medicine, at least 1500 mg/day would be required and more is better. Fortunately, vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin and is commonly excreted from the body in urine. However, there are side effects at high doses that include diarrhea and other gastrointestinal issues.

A clinical trial in China is investigating the claim of intravenous vitamin C therapy and COVID19;  and it will be interesting if we hear any positive results when the study concludes next year.

Here are the facts as we know them.

CLICK HERE.