Anti-inflammatory diet

As I wrote in my last blog on Omega-3s, the food we eat clearly acts like a drug and impacts our health. There’s wisdom in the adage, ‘we are what we eat.’ So what can we do to make dietary changes that can improve both our physical and mental health?

First, let’s go into a bit more depth about why Omega-3 is so important. The key to why it can help eradicate so many problems is due to its balancing effect against Omega-6 fatty acids (note: this is why the Mediterranean diet is so effective). Over the past century, our Western diet has seen a shift in this ratio between the two. With all the processed foods, vegetable oil, and polyunsaturated fats we now consume, the amount of omega-6 we ingest has skyrocketed in the past several generations. Concurrently, our intake of omega-3 foods like wild salmon, cod, sardines, and the like has declined. It’s important to stress that Omega-6 foods are not unhealthy for us; in fact, they are essential for our health. But what we really need to focus on is the ratio between Omega-6 foods and Omega-3s. A lowered ratio is more desirable and has been shown to have less adverse effects on our health. Udo Erasmus, touted as the world’s leading expert on oils in nutrition, has found in his practice that a ratio of 2:1 (two parts Omega-3 to 1 part Omega-6) has yielded the best results for his patients. Our Western diet currently has an average ratio of of 1:10 to 1:20 (favoring Omega-6)!! Can you see why our health is declining so rapidly?!

So what does this have to do with mental health, you ask? A lot! Not only does our current out of balance ratios affect cardiovascular health, inflammatory diseases, and autoimmune disorders, but it has been clearly linked to depression, schizophrenia, anxiety, ADHD, bipolar, dementia, autism, dyslexia, and aggression. The less Omega-3s we have in our system, the more out of whack our bodies become. The higher the ratio, the more inflammation begins to set in. You might be familiar with Daniel Amen and his Brain series. One of the treatments he emphasizes as well is, surprise surprise, Omega-3 supplements. The last point I want to stress is that inflammation is certainly more complex than just the interaction between Omega-3s and 6-s; however, this is an important underpinning to wellness.

So what can you do?

  • Start by educating yourself on anti-inflammation. Read Mark Hyman’s book, The UltraMind Solution, Barry Sears’ The Anti-Inflammation Zone (or others in his Zone series), or Andrew Weil’s, Healthy Aging. Dr. Weil has also revamped the food pyramid to create one that is anti-inflammatory-friendly.
  • You can find more about Dr. Hyman’s UltraMind meal plan on his blog here. I can’t recommend his work enough.
  • Add more anti-inflammatory foods to your diet starting today, and become more conscious of lowering your ratio between Omega-6 rich foods and oils to Omega-3s. Here’s a pragmatic site that can help with dietary changes. You can lose weight, feel more mentally balanced, and have more energy just by making small, simple adjustments.You don’t need to go on any extreme diet to notice fairly immediate results. And remember, yo-yo dieting doesn’t work!
  • Moderate exercise (even in 10 minute chunks) can really boost your results as well. And, like you’ve heard all your life: drink plenty of water and get plenty of rejuvenating rest. These are staples for a reason!
  • Eat smaller, more frequent meals every few hours instead of larger, less frequent ones. Keep healthy snacks near you throughout the day (e.g., nuts, small veggies).
  • Eat plenty of fruits and veggies. If you can, try to buy organic, especially for those foods that tend to soak up pesticides.
  • When eating meals, always strive for balance. Dr. Sears’ Zone Diet, for example, emphasizes a 40:30:30 ratio (carbs, proteins, and fats, respectively). The more you can keep your insulin and glucagon (think: insulin’s opposite) levels in balance, the more your blood glucose concentration stays within the normal range and, hence, less inflammation.

How do you improve your diet if you’re on a strict budget? Here’s some tips from Dr. Amen.

And as with any change, either in diet or by adding supplements, I encourage you to consult your primary care physician first. A dietician/nutritionist can also help guide you with adjustments that will be more tailored with your particular needs.

Here’s to your health!

 

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Omega-3s

Make no bones about it, food is a drug. What we eat clearly has an impact on how we feel in our bodies and how our brain functions. One of the medical doctors I revere most, Mark Hyman, has written extensively about the interaction between food and mental health. One particular beneficial supplement we can add to our diets is Omega-3 fatty acids. I know, I know, the first time I heard the term “fatty acids” I cringed as well. “That just sounds gross,” I thought. And then I did my own perusing of the research to find out for myself what all this hype was about. And I was overwhelmed. There is now mounting evidence from literally thousands of studies that is forging a strong connection between Omega-3s, an active compound found in plants and fish, to both physical and mental health. It’s been shown to help those with cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, menstrual pain, cancer, Alzheimer’s, rheumatoid arthritis, Type 2 diabetes, the list goes on and on.

Omega-3 has also been shown to help those suffering from a wide array of mental health concerns including depression, schizophrenia, ADHD, bipolar, dementia, autism, dyslexia, and aggression. Those struggling with anxiety have also benefitted from Omega 3s.

Here’s another great site about speaks extensively about Omega-3’s benefits.

The following are several cautions to consider when thinking about adding an Omega-3 supplement to your diet:

  • It is possible to overdose. 1-2 grams/day is the recommended limit for most Westerners. And because Omega-3 can thin your blood, it is to be used with caution for those already on blood thinners.
  • Not all Omega-3 supplements are equally as pure. According to Dr. Sears in The Anti-Inflammation Zone, we should not trust the fancy labels that tote how ‘pure’ their supplement is. He goes on to say the only independent source he recommends to find true, quality Omega-3 supplements is through the International Fish Oil Standards. He also states that Westerners do not get enough Omega-3 in their bodies, even if they were to eat fish regularly! Another important point to keep in mind. Lastly, here is a great vlog by Dr. Hyman on mercury poisoning and Omega-3.
  • Make sure you look for EPA and DHA in Omega-3 supplements, not sources that only have ALA (e.g., flax seeds, walnuts). The research has focused more on the former forms with health benefits, as the latter needs to be broken down in the body and many argue isn’t as beneficial.

In summary, I liked how powerful one blog put it:

What Happens If I Take My Fish Oils?

  • You may reduce your risk of the eye disease – age-related macular degeneration (AMD)
  • You may reduce your risk of asthma and allergies.
  • You may reduce your risk of clogged arteries, even if you have other risk factors for heart disease.
  • You may prevent diabetic complications such as: myocardial infarction and stroke due to atherosclerosis, retinopathy, end-stage renal disease, debilitating neuropathies, poor wound healing, enhanced risk of infection, and periodontal disease.
  • You may reduce your risk of memory loss and stroke in your old age.
  • You may improve your cognition and memory while helping to fight against such mental disorders as depression and mood disorders, schizophrenia, and dementia.

What Happens If I Don’t

The opposite of above.

 

As always, before adding any supplements to your diet I encourage you to consult with your primary care physician first.

Here’s to your health!

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