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↵
Those of you living in Farmington, NM may have read the headline in The Daily Times this morning. I was driving by sometime that morning and saw at least half a dozen cop cars blocking off all entrances. Hmm, that's interesting. I bet something's wrong with the gas pumps, and they're afraid it'll blow up, I thought, and sped past.
It turns out a masked man wanted drugs from the pharmacy and threatened them that there was a bomb outside that was going to be detonated if his demands weren't met. He didn't even want cash. Just give me the drugs! Thankfully it was a bluff and no one got hurt.
The thought occurred to me that this situation (which I don't fully understand, and with which I mean no disrespect to those that may be involved) can teach us something about our nation's health culture.
This type of situation has happened often across the US of A. I wonder how many times this has happened in a Natural Grocer's or a Vitamin Shoppe? Can you imagine? A man walks in with a mask past the cash registers, and demands all the shop's omega-3 fatty acids... or he's gonna blow the place!
And yet alternative medicine practitioners who focus on nutritional therapy (on supplements and eating right, etc.) are poo poo'ed by the medical community ("Hippy!" "Quack!"). But maybe — just maybe — we'd have less people trying to blow up grocery stores for med's if we had more people taking nutritional supplements to keep their need of med's down in the first place.
Pregnant Mother’s Deficient In This Nutrient May Be Setting Up Their Kids For Speech Problems Later On
In a study that's being published this month (LINK) in the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, researchers looked at vitamin D levels in pregnant mothers' blood, and then followed up with these children at 2, 5, 8, 10, 14, 17 years of age! Isn't that an amazing chunk of data to look at? It took about 18 years to get all this information.
What did they glean? Here's the results:
χ2 analyses revealed no significant associations between maternal 25(OH)-vitamin D serum quartiles and offspring behavioral/emotional problems at any age. In contrast, there were significant linear trends between quartiles of maternal vitamin D levels and language impairment at 5 and 10 years of age. Multivariate regression analyses, incorporating a range of confounding variables, found that the risk of women with vitamin D insufficiency (≤46 nmol/L) during pregnancy having a child with clinically significant language difficulties was increased close to twofold compared with women with vitamin D levels >70 nmol/L.
What does that mean? Basically that those mothers deficient in vitamin D, emotional and behavioral problems seemed unchanged (yay!). BUT, and that's a capital letters "but", they showed significant correlation between deficiency and language abilities. (What I didn't understand is how they drew the line between language and "behavioral/emotional" issues. Aren't they in the same group? Oh well.)
Summary: There is some scary research that shows a correlation — mind you, correlation does not give us the cause of something, it only points us in a direction — between language difficulty and this vitamin.
Vitamin D is a biggie. Vitamin D is one of the very few vitamins that has stood up against scientific skepticism time and time again. They can call vitamin takers uneducated hippies, except for when it comes to vitamin D. This one they can't write off to placebo.
But why the deficiency in vitamin D? is the question you should be asking. My answer is thus: no sun time. Culturally, humans have had a mixed relationship with the sun, but deep down inside we've always known it was important, shoot, most gods were sun gods of some kind (I think it's no mistake that even in Judeo-Christian scripture god is called "the son"). Back in the day, if you were tan that meant you had to do manual labor, e.g. you were poor; therefore, people didn't want to be tan to avoid the social stigma. Then, the 70s reunited us with Mother Earth, and everyone was living in tents. A short while later everyone got cancer, and we thought it could be from newly discovered holes in the o-zone, and sun-block pushers everywhere united in an international battle against UV rays. Years later, when sunblock usage went up and cancer levels continued to rise despite as well (not to mention a host of bone-weakening conditions and bacterial conditions that are fended off with sun), we returned to loving the sun. Here comes vitamin D, basically the molecule our body must have to have proper immune function, that just so happens to be turned on naturally when come in contact with it. But by now, everyone is living in under roofs and so unaccustomed to sun that Ray-Bans are worn even on the cloudiest of days. What a mess.
So what this means for you and I, who — and our children! — most likely, are deficient in vitamin D (because the only sun we get is going from the front door, to the car door, to the office door, and back again) is that we need a little extra help. Go get some vitamin D3, it may be the difference between your body getting a butt-kicking from the seasonal viruses to a mere bruise.
P.S. Here's the vitamin D I push in my office. Fancy stuff, no? Only the best.
Yes, and no. It comes down to a balance of garbage vs. benefit. I stay away from most generic multivitamins for two reasons: (1) Fillers and (2) lack of regulation.
Look at the label on your generics -- most of the time you'll find soy, corn, and artificial food coloring. If these are there, please don't take them. You could be making your body more toxic than it already is. I believe that this is the reason for the results of the recent study in vitamin poppers. They found that those who regularly took a multivitamin had greater mortality than those that didn't. Especially stay away from anything that has trans fats, or "hydrogenated" anything on the label, as well as magnesium stearate and titanium dioxide.
As was covered in a previous post, there isn't a lot of regulation for multivitamins. Meaning, you can't always be sure that what is on the label is what you're getting. For this reason third party testing is absolutely vital for any supplement you're taking.
Bottom line, if it was me, I wouldn't take a multivitamin from a no-name company.
After we've figured out what foods a human being needs to be able to express health, then and only then do we look at supplementation. Supplementation is "supplementing" the diet, it does not take its place. I cannot express this enough: taking a multivitamin with a crappy diet is practically useless. We have to remember that vitamins are a product of nature, pointed out by man. We are still discovering new vitamins! So chances are that if you get all your nutrition from a vitamin shake, that you'll be missing some very important nutrients that we don't know about yet. Play it safe, eat good food first.
The sad thing is that nutrient levels in our foods seemed to have decreased, so supplementing with a multivitamin is probably not a bad idea.
So what do we look for in a multivitamin?
- Third party testing. There is little to no oversight over vitamins, as there are with pharmaceuticals. Therefore, it's easy to make bold claims on a label, and then fill a bottle with nothing but soy, corn, cosmetic colors, and other nasty stuff. Find something that holds up to 3rd party testing that shows that what's actually in the bottle is in the bottle. A couple of organizations that are doing this testing is:
United States Pharmacopeia - has it seal of approval with the Dietary Supplement Verification Program. This isn't the most rigid test, but it's still something.
ConsumerLabs.com - This is a great one, but it has a cost: $2.25/month. It's the only way they are able to fund the testing, which takes cash. So for the price of one RedBull you can have great information on which products have passed the test, and which are garbage. It's an investment which will save you money in the long run (buy one bottle of garbage multivitamin and you've paid for the subscription for almost a year).
- No fillers. Soy. Titanium color additives. Corn?! If you read this on the label, this is code language for a filler. While I'm on the subject, Centrum, the number one selling multivitamin, is junk, in my humble opinion. Magnesium stearate is a particularly nasty filler that is a trans fat, avoid it like poison (because it really is). I believe eating junk vitamins like this is the reason why one study found an increase in mortality rates in those that were taking vitamins, opposed to those that didn't.
- Whole food supplement. Vitamins are lonely molecules that don't work well without their co-factors - the extra packaging that comes with the vitamin that makes it do its job. Nutrients in whole foods work synergistically to get the job done. When available, always opt for the whole food vitamin over the singular vitamin.
Next Post: What About Vitamin Absorption?
I got this question (if YOU have questions, send them at email@example.com and add to the discussion):
What is the best Multi-vitamin on the market? I would like to know what works the best for the cheapest price. Which brands to go with and which to stay away from? Websites to compare them and so on? Do certain kinds absorb into the body better than others? What do you think?
This is a few questions in one, but I think it's so important because there are so many products out there with so many different claims that it can be a challenge just to figure out the label. I hate to be negative, but a lot of people are dishonestly cashing in on this wellness craze -- which sucks! The wellness revolution is needed, and a good thing, but please don't be deferred by those people that are abusing this trend.
Before we ever even consider supplementation, we must ask the question: What does a human being require, nutritionally, to maintain and express health? On the most fundamental level, this should be answered using the benchmark of the human genome. Meaning that, if when we eat something, the genome works, that it is good for us. This level of thinking will also give us a diet for our species. Meaning, that diet which is beneficial and healthy for one human being should be beneficial and healthy for the human next to you (see the comments below for exceptions to this rule - Thanks Jared!). This destroys fad diets. Our genome doesn't change in a matter of months, but every month there's a diet being touted as the new best thing. This is silly, and dangerous! Stick a dog in a cage, and drastically change his diet every 2 months and see how healthy he is -- he won't be! And neither are the dieters. You all know that person; the person who is very smart and loves reading the newest research, and is always trying a new diet. What do these people look like? They're skinny, pale, dark circles under their eyes, and then they try to tell you you're being unhealthy when you eat "x" food!
After that question is answered, then, and only then, can we talk about a multivitamin, or, a supplement.
And, I will work on the answer to the first question in another post. It requires some time.