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↵
"The mental apparatus of the coming generation is developed in [the womb] and the time to begin supplementation is before conception. A normal brain cannot be made without adequate supply of omega-3 fatty acids, and there may be no later oppurtunity to repair the effects of an omega-3 fatty acid deficiency once the nervous system is formed." (bold added) - Wiliam E Connor; Oregon Health Sciences Center
When I study health and wellness issues that affect my kiddos, what usually scares me are things called developmental windows — times in a growing kid's life were if certain things occur or don't occur, they have lasting results that are difficult or impossible to repair. Its scary to think that I may have missed something. You didn't provide your kid with this or that nutrient, you let your child watch television before they turned two, they are therefore doomed for the rest of their life! — is pretty scary.
What about your kid's brain? Is that something you want to set up for success? That is, after all, the organ through which your child will experience existence. It is the organ through which your child will be able to be happy, learn, experience life, and make his/her mark on the world. The brain is pretty much square one for your child.
Your kid's brain is made of fat, and approximately 30 years prior, scientists started discovering that it takes a certain kind of fat to make a brain right. This was partly discovered by accident when children raised on formula (which were little more than skim milk and sugar) instead of breastmilk were having serious developmental delays — literally being retarded in their brain growth.
Why all of these brain problems?
Around 80 years before that a food processing technique began taking out certain kinds of oils in foods and saw that shelf life of foods increased dramatically. Without these oils, food could stay on the racks for weeks, not days or hours. This was great news! More people could be fed. Food poisoning would decrease.
...Or was it?
Years later it turns out that those fats and oils that were removed from foods were also the same fats that coated nerves and made brains.
PART TWO COMING TOMORROW
Read this jazz. Do it.
Ever feel foggy? I do. I hate it. I hate forgetting a name, or how to spell "the." Stuff like that is crazy, but it happens all the time. What can you do about it?
Special pills? Special book? Sudoku?
Honestly, the number one thing you can do for your brain is to move. MOVE GOSHDARNITTOHECK! Like one genius says, "motion is lotion for the brain." Want a smooth, silky brain that can calculate tax before the assistant rings you up on the register? Want to be able to actually remember where that article was last week that supported your recent political stance? Want to remember your grand kids?
Take fish oils, but realize that brain atrophy will not be halted by nutrition alone. Nutrition is the raw substance; exercise causes the actual brain building to occur. The brain is literally there for you to move. Did you notice what they said in the conclusion from that study?
As predicted, no signiﬁcant changes in either gray or white matter volume were detected for our younger participants. However, when directly comparing the changes in gray matter volume for older exercise and control participants, we found that the previously sedentary aerobic exercising group showed a beneﬁt in brain volume in several regions after participation in an exercise training protocol. (bold added)
Want your brain to stop shrinking as you lose thousands of neurons per day? Move.
There is no pill, potion, or lotion that can mimic the effects of exercise for you. Don't wait for one.
I've talked about fiber and its role in helping you keep a clean digestive track. What about the rest of your body?
Over and over again I've been turned on to the principle that when you fast, your body "cleans house," so to speak. Isn't it interesting that you do that with your actual house and worldly possessions when your resources are cut off as well? For example, if your boss asked you into his office tomorrow morning and said, "I'm sorry Jim, you're fired." What would you be doing that evening at your house? What would you be doing for the next week? Gathering all of your extra crap that has just been gathering dust in the closet, putting it on ebay. Selling the four wheelers that you only use a couple of times each summer. You would clean house.
Your body does the same thing. Mark Sisson turned me on to this article (LINK). Why I like this is it illustrates what fasting does to the brain. Increased autophagy, meaning that the body's ability to kill off its own cells that need cleaning is up-regulated. That may sound bad, but its a good thing. When your autophagy isn't working, and killing off wild cancerous cells, we get cancers. Mark also touches on the fact that a substance called brain derived neurotropic factor (BDNF for short) increases with fasting. BDNF is brain fertilizer. It helps you grow new synapses, making more connections, and thereby creating a more advanced brain. Cool, eh?
Which one of your depression-era grand parents would have ever thought that starving themselves every now and then was good for them? Well, it was. So try not eating for 16 hours one time a week, and start reaping brain benefits.
Josh holds a Doctor of Chiropractic from Parker College of Chiropractic, is currently enrolled in The Carrick Institute studying Functional Neurology, and runs a full-time practice in Farmington, NM. His interests are in neurology of movement, pain, and what a human being needs to express health. He also likes to read and write, hence this blog.