Thursday, April 15, 2010

Fish Oil? Living to 150? Might as Well Enjoy It! - Part I

Take a look at this information lifted straight from the CDC website:

Chronic Diseases and Health Promotion
Chronic diseases - such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes, and arthritis - are among the most common, costly, and preventable of all health problems in the US.

 Chronic Diseases are the Leading cause of Death and Disability in the US
  • 7 out of 10 deaths among Americans each year are from chronic diseases.  Heart disease, cancer and stroke account for more than 50% of all deaths each year.
  • In 2005, 133 million Americans - almost 1 out of every 2 adults - had at least one chronic illness
  • Obesity has become a major health concern.  1 in every 3 adults is obese and almost 1 in 5 youth between the ages of 6 and 19 is obese
  • About 1/4 of people with chronic conditions have one or more daily activity limitations
  • Arthritis is the most common cause of disability, with nearly 19 million Americans reporting activity limitations
  • Diabetes continues to be the leading cause of kidney failure, non-traumatic lower extremity amputations, and blindness amount adults, aged 20-74.
 They then go on to say:

Four Common Causes of Chronic Disease
Four modifiable health risk behaviors - lack of physical activity, poor nutrition, tobacco use, and excessive alcohol consumption - are responsible for much of the illness, suffering, and early death related to chronic disease.
  • More than 1/3 of all adults do not meet recommendations for aerobic physical ativity based on the 2008 PHysical Activity Guidelines for Americans, and 23% report no leisure-time physical activity at all in the preceding month.
  • In 2007, less than 22% of high school students and only 24% of adults reported eating 5 or more servings of fruits and vegetables per day.
  • More than 43 million American adults (approximately 1 in 5) smoke.
  • In 2007, 20% of high school students in the US were current cigarette smokers.
  •  About 30% of adult current drinkers report binge drinking (consuming 4 or more drinks on an occasion for women, 5 or more drinks on an occasion for men) in the past 30 days.
  • Nearly 45% of high school students report consuming alcohol in the past 30 days, and over 60% of those who drink report binge drinking (consuming 5 or more dinks on an occasion) within the past 30 days.
According to a University of Texas report on the Today Show (4/11/2006) the average lifespan in 1900 was 49 years old, and when the show aired the average was 77.6 years old and rising.  in fact, they estimate that by 2050, 800,000 Americans will be over 100 years old and many more will live to be 150!  Keep in mind that many of the chronic diseases outlined above don't manifest clinically until later in life, and they tend to accelerate the older one becomes.  For example, Alzheimer's doesn't usually set in until the 7th or 8th decade; not really an issue when the average person only lived to 49, but very relevant today and even more relevant for tomorrow.

Now go back and read the first sentence of the CDC excerpt again, and notice that THE MOST COMMON AND MOST COSTLY DISEASES WE FACE IN THE US ARE THE MOST PREVENTABLE.  If that doesn't empower you, check your pulse!  Unfortunately the CDC page doesn't get into how to prevent the laundry list of life robbing illnesses.

The common denominator to all chronic disease process is "inflammation", which even made the cover of Time a while back.

What we're talking about is subclinical, chronic inflammation that may not manifest itself as an outright medical emergency, but works steadily and slowly over the years, eroding your health, accelerating the aging process, and ultimately decreasing the quality and quantity of your life.

If that means nothing to you at this point, don't worry, I'll go into more detail in a moment.  But allow me to clarify at the outset: incorporating life style changes that limit chronic, subclinical inflammation (in addition to a little purposeful exercise) will so dramatically limit your risk for degenerative and chronic diseases that to not conciously put this information into practice is simply crazy and self destructive.  That is where Omega 3 fatty acids come into play.  They are arguably the most important nutritional supplement that one can incorporate into their daily routine to increase health in the broadest sense of the word.

You see, whether it's plaquing on arterial walls leading to hypertension or heart disease, or the plaquing in the brain cortex evident in Alzheimer's patients, an allergic reaction to pollen, or even rheumatoid or osteoarthritis, inflammation is the mechanism at hand.  The typical lifestyle (poor food choices while sedentary) push the body's biochemistry overwhelmingly towards inflammatory processes.  Translation: YOU AGE FASTER!

You get the point.  Now, Omega 3 fatty acids are commonly found in fish as well as other sources, although fish oil is usually the most effective for all but strict vegans (for moral/psychological reasons, not biochemical).  What roledto they play in our health?  They are literally the body's precursors for anti-inflammatory messengers.  What do I mean by that?  Well let's look at the relationship between Omega 6 fatty acids, like arachidonic acid, and Omega 3s like EPA.

It's been estimated that the ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3 fatty acids in the Paleolithic man's diet, one that our genomes have been optimized for through the ages, was roughly 1:1.  It's interesting to note that in people where a ratio of 4 or 5:1 is measured, changes can be seen on the cellular level and those people report vague symptoms like poor memory, depressed moods, etc.  The standard American diet (made primarily of processed food) clocks in at around 20:1, where people experience aches and pains, are more susceptible to allergies, asthma attacks, altered moods, and where signs of gross inflammation are visible in the tissue, but may take years to manifest as a diagnosable disease or medical emergency.  It's interesting to note that the people that are at a 50 or 70:1 ratio have already been diagnosed with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, etc.  All of these cases typically respond well to supplementation.

Omega 6s produce their effects via COX and LOX enzymes, but the same enzymes are what activate the Omega 3 acid EPA for it's anti-inflammatory effects.  Unfortunately, NSAIDS like Aspirin block both enzymes, inhibiting the inflammatory cascade possible with Omega 6s, but also inhibit the anti-inflammotory potential of Omega 3s.  COX-2 inhibitors specifically target the inflammatory pathways but come with tremendous risks (remember Vioxx?).  On a cost/risk/benefit analysis, Omega3s are a no brainer for long term support of your body's natural anti-inflammatory, anti-aging process.

If you get one thing from all this I hope that it is this: We stand to live longer than our parents and grand parents, but if you do not take the simple, basic, day to day steps to care for your body with regards to what you eat, how you exercise, and how you manage stress, you will seriously limit your ability to enjoy the latter half of your life due to health issues.  There is loads of evidence showing us what will happen if we "let nature take its course" and turn a blind eye to lifestyle factors that rob us of our health.  Incorporating Omega3 fatty acid supplementation into your routine will give you arguably the biggest bang for your buck in preserving your health as you age. 

Next post I'll discuss some of the issues one faces when choosing a fish oil and answer some common questions I get like "Why do I burp it up?" and "Is my generic brand fish oil good enough?".

Dr. D

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