I've been reading an often horrifying book called "Our Daily Meds: How The Pharmaceutical Companies Transformed Themselves into Slick Marketing Machines and Hooked the Nation on Prescription Drugs." From the title, it is fairly apparent what this book is about. It's also fairly apparent that it's not pro-Big Pharma.
With its biases aside, the book is still a scary read. The fact that USA is one of only two developed countries that allows direct-to-consumer advertising for drugs is scary. The fact that a new drug gets unlimited chances to prove its worth in clinical trials is scary (meaning that if a drug failed scientific testing 7 times out of ten, as long as three tests showed it did something, it can be produced and sold). The fact that a new drug does not have to prove efficacy beyond meds currently available is scary. Yeah, that three dollar bottle of Aspirin may still be better than the expensive scrip for the new anti-inflammatory in a shiny color . . . but you or your doctor just aren't aware of it.
I'm a capitalist, so I don't blame these companies for trying to make a profit, but there's something unethical about literally making up diseases to sell a product (overactive bladder, anyone?), or marketing Ritalin to 6 year olds (remember, Ritalin is basically cocaine's slightly less lethal little brother).
Luckily, tides are changing. More and more people are taking efforts to stay away from this multi-billion dollar marketing trap that steals dreams and crumples lives – have you ever tried to reach your potential while hooked on oxycontin? Be aware of this. Realize drug companies are trying to make money like the rest of us, and sadly, their product doesn't generate profits when you're healthy. In most cases, your doctor most likely wants to work with you get rid of any long-term drug dependency – make them your ally, not your enemy.
… and there isn't the slightest tint of sarcasm in my voice. When I'm driving and I see that heavier person huffing and puffing in all uncomfortable get-up on the side of the road, my heart smiles and I often get a little teary (I'm a weak-sauce crying baby in certain situations).
You're doing it.
Do you know how much they're overcoming? I get called names every week by idiot drivers passing by, and I think I look OK running. How much more an object of ridicule is the awkward overweight person struggling on the side of the road?
A fat person running is the look of someone taking charge, someone setting an example for their kid, someone getting back to what they used to know, someone beating addiction, someone making a difference, someone carving out their own destiny.
There's more heart, soul, and joy in a fat person running than in someone who was handed the genetic golden-spoon, sitting comfortably skinny on the couch, remote in hand. The latter's more a loser; the former is pure winner.
Frequently, especially with the recent depression our economy has gone through, we're reminded the importance of planning and self-reliance. We've been reminded that it is often us that must pick ourselves up by our own bootstraps, and that it is also our duty and blessing to help others once we've gotten to our feet.
Most of the focus of this collapse has rightly been on money, but there are parallels elsewhere. When one thinks of "self-reliance," one thinks of personal bank accounts, the ability to pay ones bills, of spending less than one takes in, and avoiding unnecessary debt.
What's crazy is that these lessons not only are applied to the realm of money, but in our health.
Are we physically self-reliant? Are we investing in our health? With regards to our bodies, are we taking actions to limit health deficits (fast food, sedentary lifestyle), and maximizing our health assetts (exercise, eating vegetables and fruit at every meal)?
These are important questions to ask, because one way or another, we all pay for our health. I'm not an economist, but I believe we are on the upswing of the financial depression, but that a severe depression of health is slowly mounting. Yet, I am an optimist; we can still turn things around. Therefore, I want my health costs to be minimum, proactive, and even enjoyable. I want to invest in prevention. I want to invest in my physical self-reliance in preparation for the coming storm.
A neuron, the basic cell of your brain and nervous system, needs a few things to survive. One of the biggest things it needs is "activation." You see, your body is extremely efficient. That which you don't use, you lose. This is especially with nerves where, let's say, a particular neuron responsible for firing in a sequence that allows you spout off some spanish you learned for that attractive latina you had a crush on, may be fired repeatedly when you're chasing this lady; then abruptly halted after she turns you down. If we zoomed in on the neuron responsible for your spanish, we would see its connections diminish as you're no longer saying "que pasa" to the chica, and if your spanish isn't used for a very long time, that neuron responsible for your ability to speak spanish would be one of the many neurons that die every day. (If you're an adult, you've lost something like 6 neurons in the time it took you to read this first paragraph. Don't worry, you still have trillions left.)
A neuron that isn't being used will be lost. Your body is extremely resourceful, and if it sees something isn't being used, it shunts resources elsewhere.
How does this relate to your child? One of the ways neurons are activated and kept alive more than anything else is through bodily movement... through exercise! Is it any wonder why children are so full of life? They're stimulating and crafting their brains! They're doing what they were built to do. My spazz of an 11-month-old is the epitome of this: if he's awake, he's moving; if he can't move his body, he's moving his vocal chords. Nothing is still.
The best thing you can do for you kid – right up there with making sure they have enough omega-3 fatty acids – is giving them plentiful oppurtunities to move. Don't call it "exercise," because to a kid, it's fun. Just get out of the way and let them do their thing, and their brains will flourish.
You've started supplementing with omega-3's, you lessened your saturated fat intake, your paving the way for some tremendous neurons to grow in your kiddo's brain. Congratulations. Neurons are precious. Although new research supports that we can make more neurons in certain parts of the brain, making new neurons is still a rare feat. Neurons are senstive, finicky guys at times.
With everything you know about the brain and its importance, would you ever knowingly kill neurons? Would you do the trick with your friends in the backyard where you choke yourself until you pass out? Would you huff paint? Would you be OK if you saw your kid doing that?
Of course not, you'd probably slap someone silly.
Well there's a substance that I can almost gaurantee you're feeding your kid that is causing his/her neurons to literally "pop." Ever let your child eat:
- Chips - doritoes, cheetoes, any of the flavored chips (BBQ, sour creme)
- Ramen noodles
- Canned soup
- Ranch dressing
- Restaurant chicken
- Soy sauce
- Cold cuts
- Parmesan items?
... if you have, you've probably killed neurons.
The culprit linking all these foods together was found by a chemist in Tokyo, Dr. Ikeda, who was able to isolate the excitatory neurotransmitter glutamate from a seaweed. The real fun began when they found what this substance did when added to food. It turned out to be magic dust that enhanced the flavor of almost any food being eaten. The substance was quickly set up for international manufacture and shipped to food industry giants around the world as "Monosodium Glutamate." A multi-billion dollar industry was born.
Why MSG Is Bad For Your Brain
Glutamate in and of itself isn't a bad thing. In fact, it's a good thing. An excitatory neurotransmitter that over 50% of the neurons in mammalian brains are wired to work with. Glutamate is bad when there's too much of it, too fast. It literally causes neurons to be excited so much that they die. Like a 7 year old on speed given Nike's, a track, and a iPod, these cells run themselves into the ground.
It appears that glutamate does this in two ways: calcium and sodium.
When blood levels of glutamate are very high the glutamate protein connects and opens a certain "door" on the outside of the cell called a sodium channel. When this gate opens sodium floods in... and that's not too bad. What's bad is that sodium brings water with it, and the cell fills with so much fluid that it swells and stretches so much that the cell exhausts itself trying to pump all the water outside of itself. It seems to use up all its energy, and then it shrivels and dies. This is the first way.
When glutamate levels aren't acutely high, but chronically higher than normal, a different mechanism of destruction is observed. For two hours, the neuron appears completely normal. Then, shortly after, it shrivels and dies for no apparent reason. On closer inspection, slightly higher levels of glutamate do not activate the sodium gates as happens with high levels of glutamate, but calcium channels are.
This is a little bit more complex, but what happens is that excess calcium spills into the cell, causing it to dump its own calcium, therefore creating even more calcium build up, which in turn activates phospholipase, and enzyme which breaks down fat from the cell membrane. When phospholipase goes to work, it frees a fatty acid arachidonic acid. Arachidonic is one of those omega-6, inflammatory fatty acids I've told you about before. Thus, neuronal inflammation occurs! Free radicals are formed like gang-busters. Free radicals can be thought of as chemically destructive lava bouncy balls. They're freed within the cell, bouncing around, burning everything they touch... including your genes. They're fairly destructive.
Needless to say, the neuron doesn't last long with this barrage, and shrivels and dies within 18 to 24 hours.
How To Spot MSG and Its Friends
Luckily, scientists are catching up and making changes in our food industry. MSG isn't in (most) baby foods (more on that in a sec). More and more companies are labelling "MSG free," and it is not uncommon to see Asian restaurants advertise that MSG is not used in their kitchen. But, MSG and its friends (collectively called excitotoxins by the research community) are disguised in many foods adults eat, and many foods that adults let their kids eat.
What's In A Name?
The most common way food industry hides excitotoxins is via a quick name change. Avoid foods with these ingredients in the labels:
- monosodium glutamate (of course!)
- vegetable protein
- natural flavorings
- hydrolyzed vegetable protein
Each of these may contain 12% to 40% MSG. Hydrolyzed vegetable protein is the worse! It's added to most canned goods to make bland food addictive. Your kids probably crave the stuff you're feeding to them that has MSG in it because it tastes so amazingly good. Its taste trickery! Don't let your brain be fooled.
Combating Low Grade MSG Exposure
We've all been exposed and will probably be unknowingly exposed to excitotoxins. What can we do about it? The easiest and cheapest way to protect your brain from calcium influx and all the craziness that comes with free radical barrage is to supplement with nature's natural protection against free radical damage: antioxidants.
These guys literally take those lava ballons and absorb them up so they don't poke holes in your genetic make-up.
Two brain winning anti-oxidants: vitamin C and alpha-tocopherol (vitamin E). These two warriors go past the blood brain barrier, so that means that ingesting these supplements will directly raise brain levels of these anti-oxidants and give your neurons the protection they need. Plus, they're cheap! Go to Natural Grocers and buy bulk vitamin C right now for less than a sody pop. Vitamin E is a little bit pricier, but I like to diversify my nutritional supplementation, so you should throw some E in there too. And if you have even more cash, try vitamin K, D, and the minerals magnesium, chromium, zinc, and selenium (more on these in a later post!) – and your anti-oxidation should be set.
The best resource I've found for this topic is neurosurgeon Dr. Blaylock's book Excitotoxins: the Taste that Kills. It can be found on amazon here. Here are some of my favorite references for the above discussed subjects.
- Choi, D.W. "Glutamate Neurotoxidity: A three-stage process." Neurotoxicity and Excitatory Amino Acids. FIDA Research Foundation Symposium Series, Vol 4, 235-242. New York: Raven Press, 1990.↵
- Coyle, J.T., et al. "Excitatory Amino Acid Neurotoxins: Selectivity, Specificity, and Mechanisms of Action." Neurosci. Res. Prog. Bull. 19(1981); 4.↵
- Onley, J.W. "Toxic Effects of Glutamate and Related Amino Acids on the Developing Central Nervous System." Heritable Disorders of Amino Acid Metabolism. New York; John Wiley, 1974.↵
- Link to review article on current trends in neurotoxicity, specifically glutamate.↵
In our previous post we discussed how we should add omega-3's to your diet. In this post we'll discuss things you may be feeding your youngin's that are doing them more harm then good.
In rat studies brain growth has been shown to be altered by a diet high in saturated fat. These animals fed saturated fat over a long period of time consistently didn't perform as well on memory tests, and on other learning tasks like finding their way out of a maze. It appears that the damage is cumulative, that brains get dumbed down by a constant diet of saturated fat.
Not all fat is equal, saturated animal fats are the "bad" fats — whole milk, butter, commercial meat, and the worst of the bunch: cheese.
The reason a diet high in saturated fat may be so harmful is that this isn't the fat the human body was created on. According to evolutionary nutritionist Dr. Boyd Eaton, things like milk, butter, and cheese are "new" to the human genome. Humans evolved eating meat, but the meat they ate was very lean. Things like wild fish and venison, not a McDouble. The result was a diet in meat that was not only low in saturated fat, but had omega-3's in the fatty tissues (around 2.5% omega-3 in wild game, compared to commercialized meat which has next to nothing).
If your child is having trouble learning, look at what meat and dairy they eat. It may be a great idea to try a dairy fast altogether, as cheese may be one of the most dangerous fatty foods out there.
Stop The Omega-6 Barrage
It isn't enough that we supplement with omega-3's if we do not decrease the intake of omega-6 and trans fat in our diet. Our cells communicate and send messages to each other via their outer shell, their cell membrane. So much happens at this cell-membrane that it would take a series of posts to even touch on it, but if you'd like to read more, go here for a starter course. To accomplish all that a cell needs to do, it must be malleable, moveable, changeable. Omega-3 fats are those flexible agents that make a non-rigid barrier that can still adapt and move. Picture the fluidity of a fish, how it moves and how slippery it is, and that's a good way to think of the characteristics of omega-3 fats. When a cell can move and slide around, and is flexible to "hear" the chemical messages from its surrounding cell buddies, all is well. When a cell is rigid, inflexible, communication and cell function in general begins to break down. Trans fats are these rigid, hard, nasty fats. Omega 6's are also not as mobile as omega-3's, and are pro-inflammatory. Omega-6's aren't bad in and of themselves, they're just bad when we have an imbalance between omega 3's and omega 6's. The ratio should be between 1: 1-5, sadly most Americans is between 20-40 omega 6's to one omega 3. (If you want to know exactly where you or your kid stands, get the fatty acid blood spot analysis that our office offers that shows how much of your red blood cell is made up of 3's, 6's, and even trans fats.)
At the cellular membrane level, their is competition. So it doesn't matter if you take a ton of omega 3's, if there's still more omega 6's or trans fats to make a membrane, your cells will take those. They are non-discriminatory, and take whatever fat they can that is available. Therefore, we must not only increase omega 3 intake, but decrease bad fat intake.
NEXT PART IN THE SERIES, LEARN ABOUT ONE THING YOU EAT THAT CAN LITERALLY MAKE YOUR PRECIOUS NEURONS EXPLODE TO DEATH... bad stuff.
- Wainwright, P.E., et. al. A saturated fat diet during development alters dendritic growth in mouse brain. Nutritional Neuroscience; 1: 49-58, 1998.↵
- even though it is the most delish! Read Dr. Fuhrman's Eat To Live (2003) for a fantastic summary of research against dairy. This book's only fault is its take on meat, all referenced articles against meat consumption are based on commercialized meat, not wild game and fish↵
- Go here to download a great PDF review on the subject.↵
This is the second post in a series, to view the first post click here.
"Eukanuba [makers of dog food] is putting omega-3 in puppy food. I find it sad we're giving it to our puppies but not to our babies." -Dr. Barbara Levine, professor of nutrition, Cornell University
The slow fall of omega-3's from the Western Diet happened something like this:
- In 1897 the French chemist Paul Sabatier describes how oils harden when mixed with the presence of a metallic catalyst. For this he later wins a Nobel Prize in 1912. This process is hydrogenation.
- Three years later in America V.D. Anderson makes the first screw press to extract oils from seeds. These are much better than the hydraulic presses used before, but still leaves most of the oil in the meal, still allowing rancidity to occur. They needed less oil.
- 1903 a German chemist Wilhelm Norman takes out a patent for the "conversion of unsaturated fatty acids . . . into saturated compounds" by hydrogenation.
- All of this leading to the world's first manafactured oil, "Crisco," on 1911. From here the natural next steps were margarine and other nutrient-less oils. Great, Crisco can stay fresh in your pantry for years — well if the bugs and bacteria won't eat it... maybe there's a reason.
- Come back to 1972 were a scientist named Crawford presents first evidence that DHA is important to brain function, and we have a bit of a problem. The status quo of hydrogenated oils in our food supplies has already firmly been entrenched. There's no going back. 
Recently, this has begun to change. Baby formula has begun to catch up to dog food. Go down any aisle down in your grocery store and you'll see the new claim is now omega-3's. Fortified with omega-3s! Rich in DHA for your child's brain and vision!
This is all good, because the first step in raising a healthy brain in your child is to supply the raw ingredients your brain needs to make itself. You must supply omega-3 fatty acids, especially the omega-3 fatty acid DHA.
Step One: Breastfeed Instead of Formula Feed
Even though formula is starting to catch up to the science, breastfed is still better. Two studies were done, and although they were comparing older formulas that didn't have the amounts of omega-3 fatty acids that present day formulas do, the results are still worth discussing.
Researchers at Cambridge looked at 300 pre-term infants who were fed through a tube either formula or breastmilk. Then, 8 years later, IQ's were measured. The breastfed infants scored an average of 8.3 % higher. Can you imagine taking all your tests in elementary school with a 8.3% handicap?
Another group did in Houston did the same thing, only with full-term infants. They took 204 infants at age three. These infants were of normal birthweight, with similar backgrounds, except for feeding. Some were bottle fed, others breast fed. All infants were tested for intelligence, breast-fed babies scored an average of 4.6 points higher.
In a more recent study, Birch et al compared children on a formula that had been supplemented with omega-3's with those that had been breastfed. He looked at visual acuity and intelligence. Still, despite have a formula supplemented with omega-3's, breastfed babies scored better.
How much should you supplement? If you're breastfeeding or pregnant, you should have a supplement that has 300 mg of DHA (docosahexaenoic acid is the long name). If you have an infant and want to know how much you should be giving your infant, the World Health Organization recommends 20 mg of DHA for every 2.2 pounds of body weight. If you want to be natural, eating one ounce of sardines per day would supply the necessary amount. Yeah, I didn't think you'd like that.
Three things to look for in your supplement:
1.) Anti-oxidants. Omega-3's were taken out of the food supply because they go rancid so quickly. The supplement does the same. If you take a rancid fish oil, you are doing more harm to your body than good. Anti-oxidants help keep your fish-oils fresh.
2.) "Ultra-purified" on the label. If you want to do a test to see if your fish oil is ultra-purified, bite into it. It should not taste or smell fishy. It may give you oily burps when you eat it, but if it smells like fish it isn't purified, and you could be giving yourself more mercury than necessary. Or, if it tastes like fish it is rancid. My daughter reminds me every day, "Dad, I haven't had my fatty acids yet today." I kid you not. And yet, she can't say her "th" sounds. Weird. Anyways, she takes a capsule in her mouth, bites it, sucks out the oils, and puts the capsule in the trash. She literally craves this supplement.
3.) Dark container, or stored in refrigerated section away from light. UV rays quickly deteriorate omega-3's. If yours isn't protected by a dark colored container, chances are that it's bad before you ever take it off the shelf.
I use a product by Innate Choice called Omega Sufficiency. It meets this entire checklist, and is even strawberry flavored for the kiddos. It doesn't have a fishy smell or taste, just the oily texture. It's also made from sardines, which I like, since sardines don't bio-accumulate as much mercury as other fish. This company also does random 3rd party testing of their product to make sure what they say is in it is in it — a major plus in the current unregulated vitamin industry. Plus, it's affordable. I like it so much that I carry it in my office and sell it at wholesale — it's that important.
OTHER WAYS TO GET OMEGA-3'S
Buy eggs at the store that are "omega-rich." Usually, the chicken's feed is mixed with some flax seed. Chickens then take the flax seed fatty acids and convert it to DHA for you. These eggs are usually only around $1 more expensive, and they're totally worth the investment.
Sprinkle some flax seed. Use it over your cereals, over your salad dressings. Make sure it is ground, not whole so that your body can absorb the necessary nutrients. Although not rich in DHA, flax is rich in a pre-cursor that can be converted to DHA. Sadly, honestly, clinically, most people aren't that good at converting to DHA. Eating an animal that has already done the conversion for you is better. Which brings me to my next to tips:
Eat wild game and grass fed beef instead of commercial meat. This is a wallet-breaker, I know. Wild game grazes on nuts and seeds instead of commercial feed that is mostly corn and soy (very omega-3 deficient), and as a result has more omega-3's in them. A cheap way to get wild meat is to befriend a hunter. Just make sure you're not eating bullet shards, as well.
Eat sardines at least once week. A can of sardines is cheap. Yes, it'll make you smell nasty. Yes, it will stink up the office trash can. But such is a small price to pay to have a better brain. Be that weirdo that eats fish on friday, maybe you'll start a fad.
Having an omega-3 rich brain is good, but it isn't the only thing on needs to have a healthy brain. We'll discuss other vital ingredients to your kid's cognition as we continue in our next post.
- pp. 153, 154. The Queen of Fats. Susan Allport. 2006 ↵
- Lucas, A. et. al. Breast milk and subsequent intelligence quotient in children born preterm. Lancet; 339(8788): 261-264, 1992.↵
- Birch. et al. Visual acuity and cognitive outcomes at 4 years of age in a double-blind, randomized trial of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acid-supplemented infant formula. Early Human Development. 2007 May;83(5):279-84↵