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.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Gates charity gives $500M for AIDS care

This is just terrific.

But much more is needed; G-8 governments need to step up.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation took its support of AIDS-related research and care to a new level Wednesday, announcing a $500 million grant to an international fund that provides AIDS assistance in poor countries.

Some musings...redux

I realized a while back that sometimes one can take their background and life experiences for granted. And once in a while, you get some time to really think and, in some cases, realize all over again that everyone's history and life experiences are truly unique.

I wrote something a couple nights back to someone that I thought would also be of value in shedding light on my background and core beliefs. In other words, get to what motivates my thoughts on religion, science, and history more deeply, delving into who I am as the political/economic creature you read and see here today.

Altogether, it's sort of a redux of my other blog musing. So here goes:
  • My grandfather was a general in the Taiwanese army who marshalled the front lines, later emigrating from Communist China to Taiwan as Mao slaughtered millions. I know many stories of what our family experienced; many in our extended family were left behind and suffered Mao's reformation labor camps and torture. (Eerily, my grandfather went to the same high school as Mao). We were fortunate enough to escape. Thus, we were all instilled with a strong sense of duty, honor, self, and the recognition of the importance of knowledge, history and one's critical thinking. However uncomfortable, many Chinese know Mao's red book mesmerized countless to kill millions (estimates range between 40-80 million dead during his reign).

  • Growing up, I experienced poverty first-hand and saw those without, regardless of merit, who just didn't have a shot at opportunity. And as a Christian for 10 years, then full of hope for true salvation baptized and seeking redemption as a confessed sinner who believed, I witnessed how people who in Christ's name acted less than what Christ would've liked. It all only increased my resolve to find things out for myself, with science as guide - open and self-critical, and providing a consistent model to compare and contrast things as they were, not how they should or claim to be.
  • Throughout my life, I've always respected people of faith. There are many of faith I've come to known whose deeds follow principled actions that I've always had the most sincere and utmost respect for. Charlie Rose recently interviewed notable scientist Francis Collins (38 minutes on), Director of the National Human Genome Research Institute, whose book, "The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief", speaks to the meaningful coexistence of science and faith. It is an open assessment and would be a good counter to my musing; his assertion that science has no domain or relevance in things religious and vice versa is central to faith and one's religious beliefs.
  • In recent years, I've just grown increasingly concerned about the religious extremism in this country that has fomented as an ex-ante response to Muslim fundamentalism. When we happen to be the superpower, every step we take wields enourmous influence to literally uplift or destroy millions of lives in our lifetime. The musing was essentially a reactionary piece arising from today's proponderance to treat science and critical reasoning as throw-away commodities.
  • ...Science is about bearing repeatable, testable experiments to expand and apply our body of knowlege for the betterment of mankind, and making predictions that verifiably withstands serious, repeated and transparent peer review and scrutiny.
  • I strongly stand by the scientific method and its processes, which however seemingly mundane, has afforded humanity in a relatively short time of less then a hundred years to control the wanderings of the smallest electrons and photons. Or comprehending the nuances for preventing the spread of malaria which kills thousands of African children nightly. Or allowing mothers of sick newborns to bear hope that one day we'll bear witness to humanity stopping AIDS and its various mutations in its tracks, and in such a way that everyone will be able to afford a vaccine treatment.
  • Bill and Melinda Gates deserve superlative kudos for their efforts, both in deeds and in principles. Not many people (Warren Buffet excepted) in their position have stepped up like they. Perhaps as a economics afficiendo, like Jeffrey Sachs and Bono, those numbers are more real to me than most - many are lives that could be saved for a quarter a day. And if someone gave up a quarter of their food a day, they could save more than 50 souls. It troubles me that that isn't the case, despite our best stated intentions and promises as a nation and people.
  • I've come to believe that society suffers a lot more than is obvious when religion and science mix, especially when one claims to be the other and vice versa, using each as pawns in a larger political battle to undermine each other.
  • ...Very particularly when a growing number of extremists absolve or ignore suffering and violence as part of a necessary God-given, Calvinistic, order, e.g. the numerous end-times prophesies that see a holy war between Christendom and Islamists as an inevitability versus heeding Christ's words of "loving one's neighbors" or "let those without sin judge..." or that "noone will know the hour or the day" of Christ's return.
  • ...This includes not seriously moving the mideast peace efforts forward today in a real attempt to stop the bloodletting of innocents, thus implicitly acknowledging such war as a natural order of things to come, etc.
  • At the end of the day (no pun intended), this slippery slope mutes if not deadens a society's will and aspirations, as JFK put it, "to lift all boats" irrespective of religious creed, race, color, sex or geography (or as Warrent Buffet deadpans "womb-based economics"), and subverts the positive forces and developments accrued thus far this past hundred years, parlaying it instead into increasing cynicism and despair.
  • Since when I was a deeply religious Christian to present-day, I've always passionately believed in a liberal democracy and deliberation between its body politic and sciences, e.g. stem cell research is not the next a-bomb but should be carefully regulated to avoid human cloning. And liberal in the political science sense of minorities having an equal of a voice as the majority.
  • I believe that we disregard extremism's slippery slope at our own peril; accepting such cases as [inevitable] reality is catostrophic for humanity. Just in the last ten years: in Yugloslavia where a democracy let its majority vote for and carry out genocide on its religious minority slaughtering hundreds of thousands or over a million and a half people dead in Rhwanda or the 5,600 civillians who were killed in Iraq for May/June alone or 9/11's 3,000 dead.
  • ...They're all based on distorted belief systems and stories that do little else but perpetuate hate that infects subsequent generations, where the horridly wrong acts of killing and slaughtering become a righteous one with rewards to be had in the afterlife - an unbeatable promise and operational war doctrine.
  • We dare not stand by and do nothing. And here at home, secular science and critical reasoning and all the benefit that it affords is losing ground to all our detriment because society's grown complacent and come to take its fruits for granted as the British, French, Spanish and many before have, with similar belief that God was on all their side(s) as well.
In conclusion, society's at its best when religious expression thrives in coexistence with a secular society that firmly respects it, and vice versa. An imbalance is in no one's interest. Christianity as it stands today is very different then where it stood when I attended a Billy Graham crusade in Anaheim, California more then a decade ago and was deeply touched by his message. I still prefer Billy Graham but his is a waning voice seldomly heard today.