Friday, August 11, 2006

Fishing for a good mood

Some new research from Israel show that good mood and brain health is not just about having enough Omega-3’s (e.g. fish and its oils), it’s also about its proportion with Omega-6's (e.g. corn and soy oils, etc.).

Today most of us need to eat a lot more 3's and a lot less 6's.

Not that hard and it ain’t rocket science to do. Your local Costco carries Kirkland Signature™ Enteric Coated Extra Strength Fish Oil Concentrate for a whole 6 cents each. And it's molecularly distilled so there's no mercury, PCBs or dioxins.

A bit of rocketry if you're so inclined:

Omega-6's bring on increased cellular inflammation, the breakdown of cells through oxidation, which as loosened oxygen-based molecules, aka oxides, react and break apart cellular membranes (e.g. heart, brain, skin, basically everything between your head and toe).

Omega-3's, in addition to being the premier brain food cited below, is also a potent antioxidant, a molecular agent that absorbs those oxidative molecules and helps maintain cellular integrity. They also constitute roughly half of the essential fatty acids (aka Omega-3's) that is your brain.

A diet high in omega-3 and low in omega-6 beats the blues


The evidence has been mounting for several years that the best way to ensure a bright mood—and a strong heart and working joints—is to consume plenty of cold-water fish, because they are rich in omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids. These fats, basic components of nerve cell membranes, facilitate all kinds of transactions in the brain, and one net effect is to keep depression at bay. It is through the fat-rich cell membrane that all nerve signals must pass—think of it as a kind of gatekeeper of the mind.

Now, from Israel, comes another piece of evidence linking omega-3s to mood states. And it confirms what many scientists have suspected all along. It isn't just that you need to consume omega-3 fats; at the same time you need to cut back on foods and fats that are loaded with omega-6 fatty acids, which are found in soy and corn oil.

The Israelis found that animals exhibiting the signs of depression have increased levels of an omega-6 fatty acid in their brains. Not only may depression result from a deficiency of omega-3 fatty acids, it may also result from an excess of omega-6s.

This so-called "phospholipids hypothesis" of depression has been supported by research showing that omega-3 fatty acid concentrations in the blood of depressed patients is lower than that in nondepressed people. The assumption is that low fatty-acid levels in the blood reflect low fatty acid levels in the brain. But most of the evidence is indirect, because it's not possible to examine the brain tissue of people directly.

The Israeli researchers, using an animal model of depression, found that the depressed animals and nondepressed animals had about the same levels of omega-3 fats in the brain. But they dramatically differed in levels of omega-6s, particularly arachidonic acid.

"The finding that in the depressive rats the omega-3 fatty acid levels were not decreased, but arachidonic acid was substantially increased as compared to controls, is somewhat unexpected," the researchers reported. "But the finding lends itself nicely to the theory that increased omega-3 fatty acid intake may shift the balance between the two fatty acid families in the brain. It has been demonstrated in animal studies that increased omega-3 fatty acid intake may result in decreased brain arachidonic acid."

Omega-6 fatty acids compete in the body with omega-3s. Consume an excess of omega-6s and they displace the omega-3s. The catch is, you need a proper balance of omega-6 and omega-3 intake for cells to function optimally.

Here is one of the central ironies of the American diet: While consuming too much fat overall and too much saturated fat, many North Americans fail to consume enough polyunsaturated omega-3s.

And they consume too many omega-6s. These are also polyunsaturated oils, and they're widely recommended as healthful for the heart. They're also widely used in cooking, frying and in prepared foods—corn, safflower and sunflower oils—have almost no omega-3s. Instead they are loaded with omega-6s.

Canola oil and walnut oil are highly recommended because of their fat make-up. Omega-3 fats also appear to have been integral parts of the diets of our prehistoric ancestors. Although the amount of omega-3s in the food supply has radically dropped in the past hundred years, eons of evolution have custom-crafted our brains and bodies to depend on them for basic biochemical maneuvers.

So adding seafood to your diet is only half the story. It's essential to cut out sources of corn oil and soy oil—almost ubiquitous in margarine, fried foods and commercial salad dressings. They contain a predominance of omega-6s.

By cutting out soy oil and corn oil, and using olive oil instead, you can, virtually double the effect of any fish that you eat, scientists believe. Plus, that brings you closer to a Mediterranean diet—more like the diet on which mankind evolved, and which our bodies are basically suited for.