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Omega 3's and Vegetables Reduce the Risk for Alzheimers

Posted Oct 07 2008 6:20pm
I've been praising omega-3's in these pages (and in articles and books) for as long as I've been writing about diet, nutrition and health. So I love when new studies come out supporting what we in the nutrition community have known for a long time- omega-3's protect your brain!

In one study done just last year, and published in the journal Neurology, the health and dietary patterns of over 8,000 French men and women 65 years old (or older) were monitored for a minimum of four years. The study found that daily consumption of fruits and vegetables was associated with a decreased risk of dementia from any cause. The study also found that weekly fish consumption also reduced the risk for dementia from all causes, including the most famous type of dementia of all- Alzheimer's disease.

The relationship between eating fish on a weekly basis and lowering the risk for Alzheimer's was found in individuals lacking genes for apolipoprotein-E4 (also known as apoE4). This genotype is a separate and independent risk factor for Alzheimer's.

An interesting thing about this particular study was the side finding that too much intake of omega-6's- unbalanced by consumption of omega-3's- actually increased the risk of dementia, and this was true even when people did not have the genetic risk factor.

We've been saying for what seems like forever that the balance between omega-6's and omega-3's is a critical variable in human health. Our Paleolithic ancestors and hunter-gatherer societies typically consumed omega 6: omega 3 in a ratio somewhere between 1:1 and 4:1, and that range is believed to be the optimal intake. Modern industrial societies like ours consume anywhere between 20:1 and 60:1 omega 6- omega 3!!

Why is this so bad?

Because omega-6's are the building blocks of inflammatory compounds (eicosanoids) in the body. It's not that those inflammatory compounds are all bad- we need them for various biochemical responses to injury, for example. But when our body is making way too many of them and not enough of the balancing anti-inflammatories, we're in big trouble. After all, we do plenty to our bodies- even inadvertently- to cause low level injury and inflammation. We don't need an "inflammatory factory" working overtime while its anti-inflammatory counterparts are asleep at the metabolic wheel.

You can't swing on a rope without consuming omega-6's- they're in everything. All vegetable oils are high in omega-6. To make matters worse, most of the omega-6's we consume are really crummy, highly processed vegetable oils like corn oil and soybean oil (rather than things like evening primrose oil).

Which brings us full circle to the issue of inflammation.

I'm pretty sure that one of the reasons that fruit and vegetable eating adults had less risk for dementia in that French study was because of the enormous amount of natural anti-inflammatories in the plant kingdom. Inflammation is a silent killer, and is a major factor in every degenerative disease from heart disease to diabetes to obesity.

A diet high in natural anti-inflammatories- supplemented with omega-3's- is one of the best things you can do to fight this silent killer.

Cold water fish, fish oil and flaxseed oil are all good sources of omega-3's.

Don’t forget- omega-3’s also help protect your bones. And this month, with any order of 99 or more from the vitamin store, you get a double whammy of bone strengtheners: Douglas Labs’ Cal-6-Mag plus Carlson’s Finest Fish Oil. It’s a winning combination!

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