Category Archives: diet mental health

EPA Not DHA For Depression – Dr Barry Sears

EPA is the key to the benefits of fish oil not DHA says Dr Barry Sears

Dr Barry Sears is a leading expert in Omega 3 fatty acids this week he has said that the key to the mental health benefits to be obtained from fatty fish or fish oil supplements are not down to DHA but to EPA.

“Expectant mothers have always been told that fish is brain food not only for the developing child, but for the mother as well,” said Dr. Sears in a statement. “New research data questions that ancient wisdom, or does it?”

“To understand this seeming paradox requires a detailed knowledge of fish oils and omega 3 fatty acid metabolism that is not available to most medical journalists” he said.

Now we have been hearing a lot of press that women who eat a lot of Omega 3 fatty acids are less likely to develop post natal depression and their children are likely to be smarter. However, most fish oil supplements on the market contain both EPA and DHA.

Dr Sears explains that the brain contains relatively low amounts of EPA so many have mistakenly assumed that DHA must be the fatty acid responsible for the benefits to be gained from fish oil, which is why it is added to baby milk formulas. No one ever really tested that hypothesis until now says Dr Sears.

He pointed out that the October issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association carried an article about fish oil supplements high in DHA and low in EPA and therefore researchers saw no real benefit from supplementing with fish oil.

The answer according to Dr Sears “is that benefits of fish consumption or fish oil supplementation are due to the EPA, not the DHA.”

EPA is rapidly used up says Dr Sears whereas DHA is stored, which is why there is so little EPA compared to DHA in the brain.

EPA has a powerful anti inflammatory action and “it is this anti-inflammatory action that is responsible for the neurological benefits. This is confirmed by numerous studies in which DHA has little, if any benefits, in treating depression or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, whereas fish oils rich in EPA do have remarkable benefits” said Dr Sears.
“Eating fatty fish rich in EPA may not be the answer since those fish contain relatively high levels of pollutants, such as PCBs. On the other hand, fish oil supplements rich in EPA and with exceptional purity with regard to PCBs may be the answer.”

Dr Sears is due to give a talk at the International Fetal Symposium to be held in Nuevo Vallarta, Mexico held between the 18th and 21st November 2010.

Are smokers more likely to develop mental health problems?

According to a recent study carried out by researchers from the Cardiff Institute of Society and Health at Cardiff University and Ash Wales, smokers are indeed more likely to be treated for a mental illness.

The study involved an analysis of the health profile of 13,000 people, some who were smokers, some who are ex smokers and some who have never smoked at all.

Female smokers were almost twice as likely as male smokers to have been treated for a mental illness. In total 14 percent of the smokers had suffered some sort of mental health problem requiring treatment compared to only 8 percent of the non smokers.

Not only did the study find that the smokers were more likely to have been treated for a mental health problem, it also revealed that 50 percent of the smokers drank more than the recommended alcohol limits compared to less than 40 percent of those who had never smoked.

Smokers were also more likely to binge drink (35 percent compared to 31 percent of ex smokers and 23 percent of non smokers). On top of that they were more likely to have a poor diet (only 28 percent of smokers ate the recommended 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day whereas almost 40 percent of the non smokers did) and to take less exercise.

The study’s finding will be presented at a tobacco control conference by Dr Sarah Whitehead, the lead researcher in the study.

In other words, smokers generally indulge in an unhealthy lifestyle all round and previous studies have revealed that a poor diet and lack of exercise can also increase risk of mental health problems.

So what about the effect of passive smoking on mental health?

A separate study from the US involving children aged four to 15 years from both smoking and non-smoking families found that children who were regularly exposed to passive smoking had twice the incidence of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and stuttering and were more likely to suffer from headaches.  This was after taking into account other factors that could have skewed the results.

This research was recently presented at the Asia Pacific Conference on Tobacco or Health in Sydney.

There’s no doubt now that smoking is detrimental to health in general and although no one is saying that smoking actually causes mental health problems, the research indicates that it can have a considerable impact and not just on the smoker.

Scientists discover the secret anti inflammatory effect of fish oil

Omega 3 fish oil is now known to have a profound effect on both physical and mental health and is increasingly being used to help prevent heart disease and to combat depression.

No one really knows the exact mechanisms behind how and why fish oil should work so well but researchers believe that part of it has something to do with the way Omega 3 can help to reduce inflammation in the body.

Now, scientists from the California University San Diego School of medicine have taken us one step closer to finding out why Omega 3 has such strong anti-inflammatory effects.

Researchers found that Omega 3 interacts with what are known as Macrophages in the body. Macrophages are specialist white blood cells that help to dispose of harmful molecules. The Macrophages secret a type of protein that triggers inflammation but Omega 3 fatty acids can prevent this.

Without getting bogged down in the technical science of it all, basically the Omega 3 fatty acids, in particular Eicosapentaenoic acid and Docosahexaenoic acid (EPA and DHA) switch on a “receptor” that causes the inflammatory response in the body to switch off.

“It’s just an incredibly potent effect. The omega-3 fatty acids switch on the receptor, killing the inflammatory response” said Professor Jerrold Olefsky, from the University of California at San Diego

“This is nature at work. The receptor evolved to respond to a natural product – omega-3 fatty acids – so that the inflammatory process can be controlled. Our work shows how fish oils safely do this, and suggests a possible way to treating the serious problems of inflammation in obesity and in conditions like diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular disease through simple dietary supplementation.”

The research is reported in the advance online edition of the September 3 issue of the journal Cell.

Omega 3 fatty acids are found naturally in oily fish like sardines, mackerel, salmon, herring and tuna, but as we all know, it isn’t advisable to eat too much fish due to the potential levels of industrial toxins that can be found in fish.

Yes, we’ve managed to pollute the oceans and the food source that we need for optimum mental and physical health. However, that doesn’t apply to fish oil that has been extracted from these fish and processed to remove the harmful toxins and therefore Omega 3 fish oil is an excellent way of getting Omega 3 fatty acids in the diet.

Could Vitamin B stave off dementia?

A brand new study has found that vitamin B could significantly slow down the progression of Alzheimer’s disease, a devastating form of dementia.

The researchers from the Oxford University Project to investigate Memory and Aging discovered that taking high doses of B vitamins could half the rate of brain shrinkage in people who are showing early signs of the disease.

In a healthy person, the average rate at which the brain shrinks is around 0.5 percent a year from the age of 60 and beyond but in Alzheimer’s patients, the brain shrinks at a rate of around 2.5 percent a year.

The study involved 168 elderly people who were experiencing mild cognitive impairment, a condition which can be an early warning sign of dementia.

Half of the participants were given a daily dose of vitamin B6, B12 and folate at dosages which were much higher than the recommended daily amounts and the other half were given a placebo.

After a period of two years of taking the vitamins, those who had been taking the B vitamins showed an average of a 30 percent slower rate of brain shrinkage than those who had been taking the placebo and in some cases it was more than 50 percent slower putting the shrinkage rate on about the same level as those who do not have mild cognitive impairment.

The researchers believe that the positive effect of the vitamin B was down to how it controls a substance known as homocysteine, high levels of which are associated with Alzheimer’s disease and faster brain shrinkage.

However, it isn’t a good idea to start taking high doses of B vitamins, or indeed any other vitamins without medical supervision.

The BBC reports Chris Kennard, chair of the Medical Research Council’s Neurosciences and Mental Health Board, as saying:

“We must be cautious when recommending supplements like vitamin B as there are separate health risks if taken in too high doses.

“Further research is required before we can recommend the supplement as a treatment for neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s.”

Professor David Smith, who was the lead author of the study, said that the results were more significant than what anyone could have predicted but that more research was required to see whether high doses of B Vitamins could actually prevent Alzheimer’s disease from developing in people with mild cognitive impairment.

EPA in fish oil can reduce depression in teenage boys

It has already been well established in countless previous studies that the essential fatty acids in oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, tuna and swordfish, play an important role in healthy brain development and function.

Many people with depression and other mental health problems have been found to have lower levels of essential fatty acids found in oily fish in their blood and this has led to an increase in the number of studies into whether supplementing with fish oil may be beneficial in the treatment of depression. So far the results have proved extremely promising.

Now an interesting study from Japan has found that eating more oily fish lowered the risk of depression in teenage boys, however, the same effect wasn’t seen in the girls.

Kentaro Murakami from the University of Tokyo along with colleagues analysed the diets and the rates of depression in completed data for more than 6,500 teenagers in Japan.

The researchers used questionnaires to establish the teenagers’ diets and depression symptoms. The diet questionnaire included questions on dietary behaviour and also listed different types of fish and other foods commonly eaten in Japan, a country already known for a higher consumption of fish.

The depression questionnaire used was a version of the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression (CES-D) scale which contains 20 questions relating to six depression symptoms experienced during the previous week.

What they found was that 22.5 percent of the boys and 31.2 percent of the girls were suffering from some of the symptoms of depression.

The researchers looked for links between depression and fish consumption and compared intake of Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) or both. EPA and DHA are both long chain fatty acids found in oily fish.

After studying the diet data they discovered that boys who consumed higher levels of EPA had a 27 percent decreased risk of suffering from depression.

There was an association between consuming DHA, and both DHA and EPA together and reduced risk of depression and but the results were not significant.

Interestingly, the fatty acids appeared to have little effect on the girls. The reasons for this aren’t clear but the researchers maintain that perhaps the genetic component of depression is stronger in females and diet plays less of a role.

More research is required to confirm these findings.

ADHD or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder eating a “Western Diet”.

The research was led by Dr Wendy Oddy from Perth Telethon Institute for Child Health Research.

“When we looked at specific foods, having an ADHD diagnosis was associated with a diet high in takeaway foods, processed meats, red meat, high fat dairy products and confectionary,” said Dr. Oddy.

The study was based on an analysis of information obtained from the Raine Study which involved almost 3,000 teenagers who had been followed since birth, 1800 of whom had their dietary information recorded.

Diets were divided into two separate groups, one of which represented a “Western Diet” which basically meant a diet higher in saturated fats, processed foods, fried foods and sugar. The other group which included fresh fruit and vegetables as well as fish and whole grains was labelled the “healthy diet”.

The researchers compared the diets with a diagnosis of ADHD. In total 115 of the teenagers had been diagnosed with the disorder.

“We looked at the dietary patterns amongst the adolescents and compared the diet information against whether or not the adolescent had received a diagnosis of ADHD by the age of 14 years. In our study, 115 adolescents had been diagnosed with ADHD, 91 boys and 24 girls,” said Oddy.

“We found a diet high in the Western pattern of foods was associated with more than double the risk of having an ADHD diagnosis compared with a diet low in the Western pattern, after adjusting for numerous other social and family influences.”

The researchers didn’t find an association between a healthy diet and ADHD and are suggesting that the Western diet lacks certain nutrients, in particular Omega 3 fatty acids, for optimal brain function.

Previous research studies have made the link between a lack of Omega 3 fatty acids in the diet and ADHD. Clinical trials in which individuals with ADHD were given fish oil supplements high in Omega 3 fatty acids found that supplementation improved brain function and learning and significantly reduced the symptoms of ADHD.

Omega 3 fatty acids are long chain fatty acids found in oily fish like salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines and tuna.

What this latest study didn’t reveal was whether a diet lacking in Omega 3 fatty acids actually causes ADHD or whether ADHD makes someone more likely to indulge in a poor diet and have particular food cravings.