Deanna

Natural Brain Chemicals and Your Mood
 
Brain and mental health concerns affect a huge number of people. But, where does it all come from? Does it start, or continue, because of the way the brain and nervous system is working? 
 
Some of it is genetic, passed down from our families. Some of it is triggered by stress and/or traumatic life events. Many times it seems to be related to “brain chemicals” called neurotransmitters. And, most likely, it’s a complex combination of many of these, plus other factors!
 
Today we’re talking neurotransmitters and their roles in mental health for stress and mood. Plus, I’ll let you in on what doesn’t work, as well as one major thing you can do to help to boost your brain health, mental health (and neurotransmitters)!
 
Neuro-what? (Neurotransmitters)
 
Our nerves are one of the main communication systems in our body. The whole nervous system including our brain, spinal cord, nerve cells and a few other key cells is sometimes called the “master communication system of the body.”
 
Ever wonder how these cells communicate, and what this may have to do with mental health and brain health?
 
This is where “neurotransmitters” come in. They are “brain chemicals” made from protein. Neurotransmitters do exactly that - they transmit information between nerve cells. They help our neurons “talk” to each other. 
 
FUN FACT: Nerve cells are called “neurons.” Our nervous system has other types of cells as well.
 
We have billions of neurons in our body. About 100 billion of them are in our brains, and there are billions more in our spinal cords and the rest of our bodies. Neurons relay messages from our brain and spinal cord (central nervous system) to our big toes, everywhere else in our bodies, and all the way back.
 
In fact, 
“All sensations, movements, thoughts, memories, and feelings are the result of signals that pass through neurons.” (NIH)
 
This is why the research into neurotransmitters is so very important when it comes to brain and mental health!
 
How Neurotransmitters Work
 
Neurons use both electrical and chemical signals to transmit messages. A neuron is a nerve cell with a long tail-like end called a “dendrite.” When it gets a message, it sends the signal from one end of the tail all the way down to the other end of the cell via electricity. But, it can’t send it’s electrical signal through to its neighbouring neuron. To send that message over, it communicates with its neighbouring neuron by neurotransmitters. 
 
Here’s how it works.
 
NOTE: Think of the game “hot potato” where people are in a line or a circle beside each other. The first person gets the “hot potato” and needs to pass it to their neighbour. This has to continue as quickly as possible until the potato gets to the right place.
 
In real life, a neuron gets a signal, say you touch something hot. Let’s consider this “hot” signal the “hot potato.” That neuron in your finger gets the message and needs to quickly send it through the communication network all the way to the spinal cord or brain.
 
It first sends the signal as an electrical signal through its “tail” all the way to its other end. Think of this as the first person holding the potato and turning toward their neighbour while still holding the potato. In your neurons this is done electrically, so while the potato is in someone’s hands it’s like the electrical signal going from one side to the other.
 
But that one neuron doesn’t reach all the way where the signal needs to go - it needs to get to your spinal cord or brain. So, it has to relay that signal to its neighbouring neuron. Here’s where it passes the “potato” to the neighbour. But the problem is that it can’t pass the electricity. So, it has to change that signal into a chemical to get to the neighbouring cell. This is where neurotransmitters come in. 
 
This neurotransmitter goes through the tiny space between the two cells called a “synapse.” When that neurotransmitter reaches that neighbouring neuron it attaches to a “receptor.” That receptor is the neighbour’s hands that catch that “hot potato.” When that neurotransmitter gets to that second cell, it then changes the chemical signal back into an electrical one. 
 
This electrical-chemical communication happens really quickly and continues until the message gets to where it needs to go. From your fingertip up to your spinal cord or brain where a super-quick decision is made. Then another signal goes back down to your finger to move the muscles to quickly pull it away from the pain.
 
This is how our nervous system is the master communication system of the body! It’s how our brain knows if it should be awake (because of the light your eyes see), whether you’re too hot (and need to sweat to cool off), or whether you’re in danger (and need to “fight or flee”).
 
Key Neurotransmitters
 
There are many different neurotransmitters. Let’s look at three key ones, and what we know so far about their roles in stress and moods.
 
Key Neurotransmitter #1 - Serotonin (“happy”)
 
Serotonin, also known as 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT), has many roles in the nervous system. It’s involved with maintaining our body temperature and is transformed into melatonin to help us get sleepy when the light starts to dim. It’s also important for our memory, our stress response, as well as processing our emotions.
 
Serotonin is made from the amino acid (one of the building blocks of protein) tryptophan. Because of its role in mental health, many medications for depression target the serotonin that is produced in the brain. 
 
Some serotonin is made in the brain, but most of it is actually made in the gut. One of serotonin’s roles in the gut is to help our gut keep food moving through it (“gastric motility”). Researchers are looking into the roles of the serotonin produced in the gut - at this point it’s unclear whether the serotonin made in the gut travels to or affects the brain.
 
Key Neurotransmitter #2 - Norepinephrine (NE) (“alertness” and “stress”)
 
Norepinephrine (NE) is a neurotransmitter released in brain and is involved in the stress response. If you’ve heard of “adrenaline,” and the adrenaline rush of being on a rollercoaster or bungee jumping, you’ve heard of epinephrine. Epinephrine is another name for adrenaline. It’s a huge part of our “fight or flight” reaction.
 
The part of our nervous system that is activated when we’re stressed and when we feel anxious results in a rapid release of norepinephrine in the brain.
 
Norepinephrine is made from the third neurotransmitter we’re talking about, dopamine.
 
Key Neurotransmitter #3 - Dopamine (DA) (“motivation” and “behaviour”)
 
Dopamine (DA) is the “motivation” neurotransmitter - it helps us to seek reward. Dopamine helps to turn our enjoyment of a reward into the desire to go out and get that reward. In this way it’s thought that dopamine helps to shape behaviour. Some medications used to treat behavioural disorders work by changing how dopamine acts in the brain.
 
This “motivation” role of dopamine is also involved in our moods. For example, when dopamine levels are low, we can experience “anhedonia” which is when we lose our motivation to seek out reward.
 
Dopamine has other roles in brain and nervous system communication too. It’s important for working memory and mental flexibility. It also helps to control our movement. For example, when certain parts of the brain don’t have enough dopamine, it can result in the muscular rigidity of Parkinson’s disease. 
 
Dopamine is made from the amino acid called “tyrosine.” 
 
Neurotransmitters and Stress
 
Stress is anything that challenges our body’s ability to maintain optimal health and have all of our systems balanced. This goes for mental health (psychological stress) as well as physical stress (i.e. exercise and/or being cold).
 
Our natural physical and mental reactions to stress are for our own survival. Psychological stress can trigger our brain to react to danger. And our “fight or flight” response happens whether we’re scared because we’re on a roller coaster, whether we almost got in a car accident, or whether we’re overworked and worried about our jobs. These are all examples of psychological stress, and they all cause the same response in the brain and the body.
 
Neurotransmitters and Mental Health
 
Depression and anxiety are some of the most common mental health concerns in the world. Many people experience both, and women are more likely than men to be diagnosed. In the next 13 years, depression may become the leading cause of disability in the United States. 
 
Depression involves a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest, empty, or irritable mood that can significantly affect someone’s ability to function. Sometimes there are sleep issues, lack of energy, and effects on appetite, and anhedonia (a lack of motivation to seek out things that used to interest us or make us happy). Depression affects how someone feels, thinks, and behaves. The symptoms might differ from person to person.
 
NOTE: If you think you may have depression, anxiety, or any brain or mental health concern, please see your licensed healthcare professional.
 
The causes of depression seem to be very complex, with many possible reasons that are unique to each individual. Reasons like genetics, hormones, stress and emotional loss may all contribute to the risk of depression.
 
A lot of research has looked at the structure and function of the brain to understand how it controls mood and emotions. One of the most popular ideas that started in the 1950s relates to neurotransmitters. The idea (or “hypothesis”) is that a deficiency in the “happy” neurotransmitter serotonin (5-HT) and the “stress” neurotransmitter norepinephrine (NE) is one reason for depression. Over the years, a possible role of dopamine has been added to this concept of depression.
 
When it comes to serotonin, it’s thought that not having enough serotonin in the right spots is one of the contributors. Because of its role in mood, many medications for depression target this neurotransmitter. Some newer medications also target norepinephrine and/or dopamine. It’s known that some people benefit from these medications, but others do not get better. 
 
Foods, Supplements and your Neurotransmitters
 
Neurotransmitters are made from amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein. So, is there any evidence that eating more of or supplementing with these amino acids helps to improve brain or mental health?
 
Theoretically, this makes sense, however the evidence is fairly weak.
 
NOTE: Always heed the label and speak with your doctor or pharmacist before taking supplements if you have a condition or are taking medications, as they can have negative side effects.
 
Foods and Supplements for Serotonin?
 
Many foods contain the amino acid tryptophan: eggs, tofu/soy, sesame and sunflower seeds, spirulina, and cod. Ideally you would get enough of all of your essential amino acids from food. There isn’t any good evidence that eating more foods containing tryptophan directly helps with brain and or mental health.
 
There is one supplement sometimes recommended to increase serotonin. It is 5-HTP. Tryptophan (the amino acid) is converted into 5-HTP which is then converted into serotonin (5-HT).
 
Theoretically, 5-HTP supplements should be effective at helping with moods. There has been research on this topic, and it shows promise, but 5-HTP is not proven to help with symptoms of depression. Results are small, even in people who are deficient in tryptophan.
 
A couple of small studies looked at the use of 5-HTP for anxiety, and one found a small benefit.
 
NOTE: 5-HTP has not been found to improve mental health symptoms and likely interacts with medications used for those conditions. It may also reduce the activity of dopamine. Always heed the label and speak with your doctor or pharmacist before taking supplements.
 
Foods and Supplements for Norepinephrine and Dopamine?
 
Because both norepinephrine and dopamine are made from the amino acid tyrosine, is there evidence that foods or supplements high in tyrosine can help with these two neurotransmitters?
 
Many foods contain the amino acid tyrosine: eggs, tofu/soy, spirulina, parmesan and romano cheese, peanuts, cod, and sesame seeds. As with tryptophan, ideally you would get enough of all of your essential amino acids from food. Also as with tryptophan, the answer is that eating more of these foods probably doesn’t have a huge effect on levels of norepinephrine or dopamine. Studies show that increasing the amount of tyrosine in the body does not result in increased levels of norepinephrine, or dopamine, nor does it directly help with brain and/or mental health symptoms.
 
L-tyrosine supplements may be useful if there is a deficiency in l-tyrosine, however, not if there is no deficiency. Taking them does not seem to increase production of the neurotransmitters. L-tyrosine may slightly improve cognition and reduce memory loss during short-term physical stress. It’s unclear whether it helps with normal (non-stressed) memory, or long-term stress or fatigue.
 
But, there is something that CAN help with brain health, mental health, and neurotransmitters!
 
Exercise for Brain and Mental Health
 
Back in 1969, a researcher (Morgan) found that physically unfit people were more depressed than “fit” people. This study was the first to look at the links between exercise and mental health. It was groundbreaking at the time and sparked decades of research. We’re learning more and more about the effects physical exercise has on the functions of our brains and our moods.
 
Regular exercise reduces symptoms or slows progression of stress, depression, anxiety, dementia, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and autism. Some studies show that, for certain types of depression, regular exercise may be as effective as medication or psychological therapy. 
 
Both strength training and aerobic training have been shown to have positive effects on people with depression. Some researchers say that moderate-intensity aerobic training and high-intensity strength training may be the most effective exercises to provide positive mental and brain health benefits.
 
Exercise and Your Neurotransmitters
 
If exercise can help with brain and mental health, what does this have to do with neurotransmitters? 
 
Regular exercise can protect the nervous system and increase metabolism, oxygenation, and blood flow to the brain. Exercise also improves our mood by activating certain areas of the brain, and induces the release of neurotransmitters and other brain chemicals. These chemicals can motivate us to continue to exercise regularly, helps to stimulate new neurons, and can result in improved neuroplasticity (the ability of the brain to change itself). People who exercise tend to have lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol than sedentary people. All of these are positive for both brain health and mental health. 
 
Animal studies show that exercise increases the feel-good brain chemicals called “endorphins,” and also affects the production and release of those three key neurotransmitters we talked about:
 
Serotonin (happy)
Norepinephrine (alertness and stress)
Dopamine (motivation and behaviour)
 
In rodents, certain parts of the brain have higher levels of serotonin after exercise. And frequent exercise increases the amount of serotonin produced and used in the brain. Similarly with dopamine - exercise increases dopamine levels in different parts of animal brains. If you’ve ever felt that exercise helps with your mood and memory, this may be partly due to the effect it has on dopamine.
 
While regular exercise can promote mental health. Excessive exercise and overtraining, on the other hand, can have adverse effects. If there is a lot of pressure to perform well, this can be detrimental to mental health, and has been seen among elite athletes.
 
Conclusion
 
Neurotransmitters are key chemicals our neurons use to communicate with each other. They are made from amino acids and are essential for optimal brain and mental health.
 
Eating and supplementing with key amino acids may not do much - but something else does. That is: regular exercise!
 
Regular exercise is a way to help boost our moods and ability to think and remember well. Exercise does this through improving the blood and oxygen flow to the brain, stimulation of our brains’ ability to change itself, as well as has positive effects on brain chemicals including neurotransmitters.
 
NOTE: If you think you may have any brain or mental illness, please see your licensed healthcare professional.
 
 
References:
 
Belujon, P., & Grace, A. A. (2015). Regulation of dopamine system responsivity and its adaptive and pathological response to stress. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 282(1805), 20142516. http://doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2014.2516
 
Belujon, P., & Grace, A.A. (2017). Dopamine System Dysregulation in Major Depressive Disorders. International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology, 20(12), 1036–1046. http://doi.org/10.1093/ijnp/pyx056
 
Chand, S.P. and Whitten, R.A. (2018) Depression. StatPearls Publishing.
LINK:  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK430847/
 
Clevenger, S. S., Malhotra, D., Dang, J., Vanle, B., & IsHak, W. W. (2018). The role of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors in preventing relapse of major depressive disorder. Therapeutic Advances in Psychopharmacology, 8(1), 49–58. http://doi.org/10.1177/2045125317737264
 
Cooney, G.M., Dwan, K., Greig, C.A., Lawlor, D.A., Rimer, J., Waugh, F.R., McMurdo, M. & Mead, G.E. (2013). Exercise for depression. Cochrane Database Syst Rev, (9):CD004366. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD004366.pub6.
 
Examine.com. Supplements: 5-HTP. Accessed May 7, 2018.
 
Examine.com. Supplements: Branched-chain amino acids. Accessed May 7, 2018.
 
Examine.com. Supplements: l-Tyrosine. Accessed May 7, 2018.
 
Examine.com. Supplements: Noradrenaline. Accessed May 7, 2018.
 
Heijnen, S., Hommel, B., Kibele, A., & Colzato, L. S. (2015). Neuromodulation of Aerobic Exercise—A Review. Frontiers in Psychology, 6, 1890. http://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01890
 
Kim, T. W., Lim, B. V., Baek, D., Ryu, D.-S., & Seo, J. H. (2015). Stress-Induced Depression Is Alleviated by Aerobic Exercise Through Up-Regulation of 5-Hydroxytryptamine 1A Receptors in Rats. International Neurourology Journal, 19(1), 27–33. http://doi.org/10.5213/inj.2015.19.1.27
 
Mayo Clinic. Depression (Major Depressive Disorder). Accessed May 2, 2018,
 
Montoya, A., Bruins, R., Katzman, M. A., & Blier, P. (2016). The noradrenergic paradox: implications in the management of depression and anxiety. Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment, 12, 541–557. http://doi.org/10.2147/NDT.S91311
 
Morgan, W.P. (1969). A pilot investigation of physical working capacity in depressed and nondepressed psychiatric males. Res Q, 40(4):859-61.
LINK:  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/5262123
 
Mul, J.D. (2018). Voluntary exercise and depression-like behavior in rodents: are we running in the right direction? J Mol Endocrinol, 60(3):R77-R95. doi: 10.1530/JME-17-0165.
 
National Institutes of Health. Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. What are the parts of the nervous system? Accessed May 2, 2018.
 
National Institutes of Health. National Institute for Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Brain Basics: Know your brain. Accessed May 2, 2018.
 
National Institutes of Health. U.S. National Library of Medicine. MedLine Plus. Nerve conduction. Accessed May 2, 2018.
 
Portugal, E.M.M., Cevada, T., Sobral Monteiro-Junior, R., Guimarães T.T., da Cruz Rubini, E., Lattari, E., Blois, C., & Camaz Deslandes, A. (2013). Neuroscience of exercise: from neurobiology mechanisms to mental health. Neuropsychobiology, 68(1):1-14. doi: 10.1159/000350946. 

Tada, A. (2017). The Associations among Psychological Distress, Coping Style, and Health Habits in Japanese Nursing Students: A Cross-Sectional Study. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 14(11), 1434. http://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph14111434
 
USDA. Nutrient Composition Database: Tryptophan. Accessed May 7, 2018.
 
Wipfli, B., Landers D, Nagoshi C, Ringenbach S. (2011). An examination of serotonin and psychological variables in the relationship between exercise and mental health. Scand J Med Sci Sports, 21(3):474-81. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0838.2009.01049.x. 

Breakfast Cookies
 
1 cup mashed banana
1/2 cup applesauce
2 tbsp coconut oil
5 dates
1/2 cup coconut flour
2 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp lemon juice
1/4 cup shredded coconut
3 tbsp chocolate chips  (enjoy life brand)
2 tbsp dried cranberries
 
Preheat oven to 350 F.
Blend the banana, applesauce, coconut oil and dates in a food processor or blender.
Fold into the remaining ingredients.
Roll into balls and flatten with your hand on the baking sheet.  I used stoneware, but you could use a regular baking sheet with parchment paper.
Bake for 18-20 minutes till browned all over and slightly firm to touch.
Cool completely on a wire rack then store in an airtight container in the fridge.
 
Recipe inspired by Against All Grain Allergy Free Breakfast Cookies.
 Until recently, we didn’t know how much our gut and brain interacted. Some people thought that our brains controlled everything we did, consciously and subconsciously.
 
They were wrong!
 
Some of us have a sense that there is a connection because we often feel emotions in our gut. For example, when we’re scared we can get a “knot” in our stomach. Or, feeling sad or anxious can affect our appetite and the number of bathroom trips we need to make. Plus, many digestive issues often come with mood issues.
 
Recent research confirms a gut-brain connection, a.k.a. “axis.” This microbiome-gut-brain axis is stronger and different than we had imagined. And with new technology, we’ve been able to study the gut microbes in a way that was not possible just a few years ago.
 
Let’s talk about how your gut microbes, your gut itself, your brain, and your mental health are all interconnected and influence each other! Plus, we’ll dive into some “mood foods,” as well as stress reducing activities that can help with gut issues.

Our Next Thermography Clinic will be Monday, October 1/18

Spaces are limited, and we will be taking deposits to hold your spot.

Scans provided by Janice Holmes, Health Scan.

 
What is Digital Thermography?
Digital Infrared Thermographic Imaging, or more commonly known as Thermography, is a non-invasive test using an infrared camera to measure and pinpoint abnormal thermal changes within the body. The camera gauges body tissue heat energy that is then reflected on a high-speed computer for imaging. Generally, problem areas show high temperatures due to increased blood flow and increased metabolic activity.
 
The recording of these thermal patterns of the body are used to aid in diagnosing and/or monitor inflammation, pain or illness in any part of the body. Unlike more familiar medical tests such as X-ray, mammogram or ultrasound, and MRI, which are tests of  anatomy or structure, Thermography is a test of physiology. Thermal changes are often the earliest sign of vascular disease, immune dysfunction, and systemic inflammation. To the individual, Thermography can help visualize pain and inflammation and give a red flag warning to areas of concern whether or not symptoms are actually present.
 
The scan is harmless, non-invasive, no radiation, economical, medically approved technology, and requires only a minimal amount of your time. HealthSCAN has helped many patients get to the cause of their condition so proper treatment can be rendered.
Monday, 07 May 2018 16:16

Omega-3s - The fats we love to love

Omega-3s get a lot of notoriety - and for good reason! Not only is one of them essential for good health, but we don’t get enough of them in our diets. 
 
Omega-3s are a kind of fat. Fats are not just a storable source of 9 calories per gram. Different fats are used by our bodies for different essential functions. They’re part of the membranes that surround each cell, and are especially important in the brain and nerves. They can mediate the effect of our immune cells as well as influence the production of neurotransmitters and hormones. Omega-3s are anti-inflammatory, and have health benefits for the heart, brain, and our mental health. 
 
In fact, it’s thought that the reduced intake of omega-3s over the last few generations is one of the reasons for the increase in many of the chronic diseases we see today.
 
Let’s look at what exactly omega-3s are, why they’re so good for our health, and how to get enough of these lovable fats.
 
What are omega-3s?
 
There are several types of fats (a.k.a. fatty acids). They’re broken down into two main categories: saturated and unsaturated. Unsaturated fatty acids are further broken down into monounsaturated (MUFAs) and polyunsaturated (PUFAs). 
 
The main types of PUFAs are omega-3s and omega-6s. We don’t hear much about omega-6s because we tend to get too much of these in our diet already. Omega-6s are found in meat, poultry, and many common seed oils like corn and sunflower. So, the focus has been to educate people to swap out some of those omega-6s to get more omega-3s like our ancestors did.
 
Three of the omega-3 fatty acids are particularly important for health. They are:
Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) - essential fatty acid
Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) - biologically active fatty acid
Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) - biologically active fatty acid
 
ALA is essential - literally essential for health, just like essential vitamins and minerals. This is because the body can’t create it from other nutrients. It is this omega-3 that the body needs in order to create the biologically active EPA and DHA. In fact, research shows that the primary role of ALA is to be the building block for EPA and DHA.
 
What I mean by “biologically active” is that EPA and DHA are the forms of omega-3s that provide the health benefits. They’re the ones that are active in the body.
 
ALA is the plant-based omega-3 and is found in many seeds like flax, hemp, and chia. It’s also found in walnuts, and oils from olives, canola, and soy. 
 
EPA and DHA, on the other hand, are found in seafood, especially oily fish. They are also found in algae, which is a vegetarian source.
 
FUN FACT: Fish have the biologically active forms of omega-3s because they eat the algae and store extra EPA and DHA in their fat. 
 
The conversion of plant-based essential ALA into the biologically active EPA and DHA is complex and requires several steps and enzymes. Unfortunately, the process isn’t very efficient. The conversion rate of ALA to EPA is about 8-12%, while the conversion to DHA is only about 1%. Some studies show that women may have slightly higher conversion rates compared to men.
 
Despite all of this biochemistry, the real question is how do they work in the body and what are these health benefits?
 
The health benefits of omega-3s
 
There is a lot of research about the health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids. Things like anti-inflammation, heart and brain health, as well as better moods. 
 
Omega-3s and anti-inflammation
 
There are many inflammatory diseases like allergies, asthma, arthritis, and autoimmune diseases. There are also many other diseases that may not be inflammatory per se, but have a substantial inflammatory component. These include diabetes, obesity, cancer, heart disease, depression, and neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s. 
 
Many of these conditions are becoming more common. Reasons include allergens, infections, environmental and dietary toxins, and even stress. As mentioned earlier, one of these reasons is our inflammatory diets.
 
Yes! What you eat can increase or decrease the amount of inflammation in your body.
 
An inflammatory diet contains a much higher intake of omega-6s compared with omega-3s. In fact, the higher the intake of certain omega-6s, the higher the production of certain inflammatory molecules.
 
Many animal and some clinical studies have found reduced inflammation when omega-3 supplements were taken. 
 
A review of 30 studies showed that fish oil supplements reduced the pain of arthritis, particularly rheumatoid arthritis.
 
How do omega-3s reduce inflammation? 
 
Two ways. First, they are used to create anti-inflammatory molecules themselves. Second, they can inhibit some of the mechanisms that cause inflammation in the first place. 
 
Omega-3s are used to produce certain anti-inflammatory molecules (e.g. prostaglandins, resolvins, etc.) that combat inflammation.
 
They also reduce the production of enzymes that create inflammatory molecules, and can even reduce the expression of certain inflammatory genes.
 
Omega-3s become incorporated into the membranes of immune cells and affect their inflammatory response.
 
Some animal studies even show that omega-3s can reduce inflammation by helping to reduce obesity!
 
Omega-3s and the brain
 
If you take away the water weight, your brain is about 60% fat. DHA is the main fatty acid in the brain’s grey matter, while EPA makes up about 1% of the total brain fatty acids.
 
DHA is the most important PUFA in the central nervous system. It’s the most abundant component of the membranes of nerve cells and plays important roles in both structure and function. DHA helps nerve cells insulate their electrical signals, stabilize their membranes, and reduce inflammation.
 
It’s important to ensure enough omega-3s for optimal brain health, as well as baby’s brain development during pregnancy and beyond.
 
The last trimester of pregnancy sees the greatest need for DHA for the baby. This is when the brain and eyes are maturing. More DHA is transported to the infant during this last trimester compared to the first two.
 
Children born preterm are more vulnerable to deficiency, and studies show they have lower levels of omega-3s in their blood compared to infants born at full term. 
 
Preterm infants given a formula that includes omega-3s show a small improvement in neurodevelopmental outcomes compared to preterm infants given formula without omega-3s. This does not seem to affect full term infants.
 
DHA is found in breast milk. If mothers reduce the amount of omega-3s they eat, there is a reduction in the amount of omega-3s in their breast milk.
 
Recent studies found positive effects in cognition (ability to think) and brain connectivity in young children who had higher DHA intake during infancy.
 
On the other side of the spectrum, in terms of neurodegeneration, age is the greatest risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease (AD). There’s been a lot of research on the effects of omega-3s and AD. People with higher omega-3 intakes have a lower risk of AD; and people with AD tend to have lower levels of DHA in their blood.
 
Because of DHA’s effect on certain brain cells (glial cells), it was thought that supplementing with DHA may help with AD. This was tried in animal models and was shown to boost an enzyme that helps to clear the detrimental Aβ plaques that are common in AD. Also, animals given an omega-6 enriched diet had higher levels of plasma Aβ as well as more mood issues. 
 
A recent review of several high-quality clinical studies looked at the use of omega-3 supplements to try to help with mild to moderate AD. After combining the results of those trials, researchers found that after six months, there was no consistent benefit in quality of life, cognition (ability to think), or mental health. One study showed a small improvement in activities of daily living amongst those who had the omega-3 supplements.
 
A more recent larger study showed that omega-3 supplements may have a small benefit if taken early in the development of AD, but other studies don’t show the same benefit.
 
More research is needed to understand the role omega-3s have for people with AD.
 
FUN FACT: One symptom of deficiency of the essential omega-3 (ALA) is visual dysfunction. This is because of how important DHA is, not only for the brain, but also for the retina of the eye.
 
Omega-3s and mental health
 
People who regularly eat and/or have higher blood levels of omega-3s are less likely to feel depressed or anxious.
 
One randomized double-blind study looked at depressed undergraduate students. They found a significant reduction in symptoms in those who took omega-3 supplements, compared to those who took placebo.
 
Studies have also shown a mild to moderate benefit in symptoms for those taking omega-3s versus placebos. Some of those studies also showed a comparable result to certain antidepressant medications. These studies also concluded that the evidence was not very strong yet, and more research with higher-quality studies is needed.
 
In terms of aggression, a recently published double-blind randomized study tested whether omega-3 supplements could help reduce aggression. They gave one group a supplement with EPA and DHA, and another got a placebo. The participants taking the omega-3s found that after 6-weeks they felt that their aggressiveness significantly decreased.
 
The links between mental health and inflammation are many. For one, certain medications that cause inflammation can induce mental health symptoms. At the same time, some antidepressant medications are anti-inflammatory. In fact, taking omega-3s along with antidepressant medications has an improved effect over antidepressant medications alone.
 
The role of omega-3s in mental health are not just due to their anti-inflammatory abilities. There is also evidence that omega-3 deficiency can lead to impaired function of the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine, and these can result in some mental health issues.
 
There is also the connection with stress hormones. People who feel depressed tend to have higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol in their blood. The omega-3 EPA may reduce the production and release of stress hormones.
 
Omega-3s and heart health
 
Omega-3s started getting famous for heart health because of research dating back to the 1970s. At that time, researchers found that Greenland Inuit, despite eating a lot of fat, had a lower rate of heart disease and fewer risk factors too. So, they thought that it wasn’t the amount of fat eaten that was unhealthy for the heart, but rather the type of fat eaten.
 
Many early studies of fish consumption and omega-3 supplementation found a lot of evidence of a heart-healthy effect. They found that people who ate fatty fish several times each week had lower risks of heart disease than people who didn’t eat any fish. 
 
In terms of supplements, a large study found that people with heart disease who took ALA or fish oil capsules every day had reduced risk for death, heart attack, and stroke compared with those taking a placebo. 
 
Other studies show that higher levels of EPA and DHA in your blood are associated with lower  risk factors for heart issues.
 
Many more studies showed that fish oil helped to improve blood lipids and cholesterol, reduced blood pressure, improved heart rate and rhythm, “thinned” the blood, had beneficial effects on blood vessels, and stabilized atherosclerotic plaques.
 
Lately, there seems to be a growing body of evidence that the improved heart health effects of omega-3s may be smaller than we originally thought. Some researchers think these conflicting results may be due to the fact that fewer people smoke now, and also that the standard of care for people with heart disease has been improving over the decades. 
 
The bottom line when it comes to omega-3s and heart health is there is evidence that omega-3 supplements lower some risk factors of heart disease - the evidence is just not as overwhelmingly strong as we first thought. Plus, since these supplements tend to be quite safe, many expert medical associations still recommend them for heart health.
 
NOTE: Talk to your health care professional before starting any supplement regimen, especially if you have a medical condition or are taking medications.
 
How to get enough omega-3s from food
 
In order to get the health benefits you have to regularly eat enough foods that are high in omega-3s.  
 
It’s thought that our ancestral diets included approximately equal amounts of omega-3s and omega-6s. Now, our intake of omega-6s is up to 20x higher than our intake of omega-3s. This is why there is such an emphasis on getting enough omega-3s.
 
When it comes to plant-based sources of omega-3s, flax is the winner! Up to half of flax’s total fatty acids are the essential omega-3 ALA. Canola, walnuts, and soy, are less concentrated sources of ALA, with about 10% of their fatty acids as ALA.
 
To eat the recommended amount of omega-3s have at least two servings of fatty fish each week. Fatty fish include salmon, mackerel, herring, and sardines. This is a recommendation from the World Health Organization, as well as other health authorities.
 
In the US, there have been consistent recommendations to increase fish intake for almost 20 years. Despite this the average American still only eats about 1.3 servings of fish per week.
 
Eating fish and seafood gives you a lot more nutrition than simply taking a supplement. They contain protein, vitamins D and B12, as well as the minerals iodine, selenium, potassium, and magnesium, to name a few. 
 
When it comes to choosing fish, bigger is not better! Large fish that feed on smaller fish have higher concentrations of toxins in their fat. To reduce your intake of things like methyl mercury and organic pollutants, limit your intake of tilefish, king mackerel, shark, and swordfish. And anyone who is pregnant, breastfeeding, or a child, should avoid these types of fish altogether.
 
There are also non-fish sources of omega-3s! Some foods are fortified with omega-3 oils. Some baked goods, pastas, dairy, eggs, dressings, and spreads may contain added flax, algal, or fish oils. Omega-3 eggs are produced by hens who’ve had flax seeds, chia seeds, and/or fish oil added to their feed. In fact, hens fed the plant-based ALA produce eggs with ALA, and those fed fish oil produced eggs with EPA & DHA.
 
Check your labels!
 
Omega-3 supplements
 
NOTE: Omega-3 supplements are by no means a “treatment,” but can help in cases of insufficiency. In terms of safety, fish oil supplements have a long history of safety. However, be cautious if you’re planning or recently had surgery, or have a compromised immune system. Speak with your physician or pharmacist if you take pain, anti-inflammatory, or blood-clotting, or blood lipid/cholesterol medications. Speak with your health care professional before changing your supplement regimen.
 
For those who don’t eat fish, supplements can be an option. Omega-3 supplements are one of the most popular supplements taken. 
 
It’s recommended that most adults get at least 0.5-1.6 g per day of combined EPA and DHA, preferably from food. In terms of ALA, 1.5-3 g per day is beneficial, and that can be from plant-based foods or supplements. 
 
Fish liver oil, is from the livers of the fish, and also contains fat-soluble vitamins like vitamins A and D.
 
PRO TIP: Refrigerating your fish oil supplements can help prevent the delicate fats from going rancid.
 
Conclusion
 
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for good health! 
 
Some of the health benefits include reduced inflammation and pain of rheumatoid arthritis; improved brain function and mental health; and reduced risk of heart disease. 
 
Flax is the best plant-based source of the essential omega-3, ALA. The two biologically active omega-3s, EPA and DHA, are from fish or algae. It’s always recommended to get your nutrients from food as much as possible. At least two servings of fatty fish each week is recommended.
 
If you consider supplementing, make sure to follow direction on the label and keep them refrigerated. If you have any medical conditions or are taking medications, make sure to speak with your health care professional.
 
References
 
Abdulrazaq M1, Innes JK1, Calder PC2.(2017). Effect of ω-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids on arthritic pain: A systematic review. Nutrition, 39-40:57-66. doi: 10.1016/j.nut.2016.12.003. 
 
Bäck, M. (2017). Omega-3 fatty acids in atherosclerosis and coronary artery disease. Future Science OA, 3(4), FSO236. http://doi.org/10.4155/fsoa-2017-0067
 
Baker, E.J., Miles, E.A., Burdge, G.C., Yaqoob, P. & Calder, P.C. (2016). Metabolism and functional effects of plant-derived omega-3 fatty acids in humans. Prog Lipid Res, 64:30-56. doi: 10.1016/j.plipres.2016.07.002.
 
Balk, E. M., & Lichtenstein, A. H. (2017). Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Cardiovascular Disease: Summary of the 2016 Agency of Healthcare Research and Quality Evidence Review. Nutrients, 9(8), 865. http://doi.org/10.3390/nu9080865
 
Bègue, L., Zaalberg, A., Shankland, R., Duke, A., Jacquet, J., Kaliman, P., Pennel, L., Chanove, M., Arvers, P. & Bushman, B.J. (2017). Omega-3 supplements reduce self-reported physical aggression in healthy adults. Psychiatry Res, 261:307-311. doi: 10.1016/j.psychres.2017.12.038.
 
Bowen K.J., Harris, W.S. & Kris-Etherton, P.M. (2016). Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Cardiovascular Disease: Are There Benefits? Curr Treat Options Cardiovasc Med, (11):69.
LINK:  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5067287/
 
Burckhardt, M., Herke, M., Wustmann, T., Watzke, S., Langer, G. & Fink A. (2016). Omega-3 fatty acids for the treatment of dementia. Cochrane Database Syst Rev, 11;4:CD009002. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD009002.pub3.
LINK:  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27063583
 
Calder, P. C. (2013). Omega‐3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and inflammatory processes: nutrition or pharmacology? British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, 75(3), 645–662. http://doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-2125.2012.04374.x
 
Calder P.C. (2017). Omega-3 fatty acids and inflammatory processes: from molecules to man. Biochem Soc Trans, 15;45(5):1105-1115. doi: 10.1042/BST20160474. 
 
Carlson, S. E., & Colombo, J. (2016). Docosahexaenoic Acid and Arachidonic Acid Nutrition in Early Development. Advances in Pediatrics, 63(1), 453–471. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.yapd.2016.04.011
 
Chaddha, A & Eagle, K.A. (2015). Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Heart Health. Circulation, 132:e350-e352. https://doi.org/10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.114.015176
 
Coorey, R., Novinda, A., Williams, H. & Jayasena, V. (2015). Omega-3 fatty acid profile of eggs from laying hens fed diets supplemented with chia, fish oil, and flaxseed. J Food Sci, 80(1):S180-7. doi: 10.1111/1750-3841.12735.
LINK:  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25557903
 
Gintya, A.T. & Conklinb, S.M. (2015). Short-term supplementation of acute long-chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids may alter depression status and decrease symptomology among young adults with depression: A preliminary randomized and placebo controlled trial. Psychiatry Research. 229(1–2); 485–489.
 
Gioxari, A., Kaliora, A.C., Marantidou, F. & Panagiotakos, D.P. (2018). Intake of ω-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in patients with rheumatoid arthritis: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Nutrition, 45:114-124.e4. doi: 10.1016/j.nut.2017.06.023.
LINK:  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28965775
 
Health Canada, Natural and Nonprescription Health Products Directorate, Single Monographs, Fish Oil. Accessed March 2, 2018.
 
Jayarathne, S., Koboziev, I., Park, O.-H., Oldewage-Theron, W., Shen, C.-L., & Moustaid-Moussa, N. (2017). Anti-Inflammatory and Anti-Obesity Properties of Food Bioactive Components: Effects on Adipose Tissue. Preventive Nutrition and Food Science, 22(4), 251–262. http://doi.org/10.3746/pnf.2017.22.4.251
 
Langlois, K. & Ratnayake, W.M. (2015). Omega-3 Index of Canadian adults. Health Rep. 26(11):3-11.
LINK: http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/82-003-x/2015011/article/14242-eng.pdf
 
Martínez-Cengotitabengoa, M. & González-Pinto, A. (2017). Nutritional supplements in depressive disorders. Actas Esp Psiquiatr, 45(Supplement):8-15. 
 
Molfino, A., Amabile, M. I., Monti, M., & Muscaritoli, M. (2017). Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids in Critical Illness: Anti-Inflammatory, Proresolving, or Both? Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity, 2017, 5987082. http://doi.org/10.1155/2017/5987082
 
Mori TA1. (2017). Marine OMEGA-3 fatty acids in the prevention of cardiovascular disease. Fitoterapia, 123:51-58. doi: 10.1016/j.fitote.2017.09.015.
 
Rapaport, M. H., Nierenberg, A. A., Schettler, P. J., Kinkead, B., Cardoos, A., Walker, R., & Mischoulon, D. (2016). Inflammation as a Predictive Biomarker for Response to Omega-3 Fatty Acids in Major Depressive Disorder: A Proof of Concept Study. Molecular Psychiatry, 21(1), 71–79. http://doi.org/10.1038/mp.2015.22
 
Rogers, L. K., Valentine, C. J., & Keim, S. A. (2013). DHA Supplementation: Current Implications in Pregnancy and Childhood. Pharmacological Research : The Official Journal of the Italian Pharmacological Society, 70(1), 13–19. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.phrs.2012.12.003
 
Rutkofsky, I.H., Khan, A.S., Sahito, S. & Kumar, V. (2017). The Psychoneuroimmunological Role of Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids in Major Depressive Disorder and Bipolar Disorder. Adv Mind Body Med, 31(3):8-16.
LINK:  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28987035
 
Senftleber, N.K., Nielsen, S.M., Andersen, J.R., Bliddal, H., Tarp, S., Lauritzen, L., Furst, D.E., Suarez-Almazor, M.E., Lyddiatt, A. & Christensen, R. (2017). Marine Oil Supplements for Arthritis Pain: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Trials. Nutrients, 9(1). pii: E42. doi: 10.3390/nu9010042.
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Siscovick, D.S., Barringer, T.A., Fretts, A.M., Wu, J.H., Lichtenstein, A.H., Costello, R.B., Kris-Etherton, P.M., Jacobson, T.A., Engler, M.B., Alger, H.M., Appel, L.J. & Mozaffarian, D. (2017). Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acid (Fish Oil) Supplementation and the Prevention of Clinical Cardiovascular Disease: A Science Advisory From the American Heart Association. Circulation, 135(15):e867-e884. doi: 10.1161/CIR.0000000000000482.
 
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Zárate, R., el Jaber-Vazdekis, N., Tejera, N., Pérez, J. A., & Rodríguez, C. (2017). Significance of long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids in human health. Clinical and Translational Medicine, 6, 25. http://doi.org/10.1186/s40169-017-0153-6
 
Breathing is a part of life that's of utmost importance, but something we rarely spend much time thinking about -- our bodies naturally take care of this task for us without any thought.  There's nothing sweeter than taking a deep breath of fresh mountain air, or breathing in the salty air as you look out over the ocean.  But how often do you consider the air you breathe day in and day out in your living space?  
 
There are many simple things you can do to assure the air in your home stays as pure as possible, and my favorite ways to do this are using plants and essential oils.  These, together and separate, can remove toxins that you don't see, clean the air in your home, and add an ambiance all the while.  Breathe new life into your home by using these plants and essential oils to purify your living space. 
 
1.  Aloe Vera
Not only is it a great plant to keep around for relieving burns, but it’s also amazing for drawing formaldehyde from the air. Plus, in small spaces, just one will work wonders. 
 
2.  Lemon Essential Oil
This oil purifies the air plus it has a very uplifting impact on you. Try diffusing some in the morning as you get ready for work. 
 
3.  Fern
Ferns are perfect for your bathroom space because they’re happiest in humidity. While they’re there, they will take all the xylene from the area for a cleaner and healthier you.
 
4.  Eucalyptus Essential Oil
There’s a reason you smell this essential oil in spas everywhere. It purifies the air to keep it fresh plus it is an ideal natural decongestant. Use it in the chillier months or when allergies strike to clear the air and your sinuses too.
 
5.  Spider Plant
If you’ve avoided keeping plants around the home because you’re not good at keeping them alive, then this plant is a good choice. It doesn’t need watering very often and is fantastic for absorbing any chemicals released into your air.
 
6. Tea Tree Essential Oil
This air-purifying oil is one of the best since it fights away mold. Mold can lurk behind walls and may not be visible to you while still causing irreparable harm to your health. Tea tree essential oil can assist with keeping this from happening.
 
7.  Chrysanthemums 
According to NASA, this is the best natural air purifier you can keep in your home. It destroys those air pollutants, keeping your home’s air clean and fresh. 
 
8.  Snake Plant
If you have a space in your home that doesn’t get much sunlight, you’ll like this plant. It’s as easy to care for as the spider plant too. 
 
For the best clean air in your home, try incorporating both plants and essential oils. You can diffuse the oils, or you can spray them around your house daily. Unless you have a considerable space, one plant should do the trick in each room. See how much better you feel when you purify your air naturally!
 
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Thursday, 12 April 2018 15:11

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins

These are tasty little muffins that are sure to satisfy that sweet craving in the afternoon.

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins
Sunday, 08 April 2018 21:07

Chocolate Cherry Oatmeal

I LOVE Chocolate!  So, when I can add it to my breakfast, that is a huge bonus.  Eating a balanced breakfast is key to starting your day off right to balance your blood sugar and your hormones.
 
This chocolate cherry oatmeal will fill you up with the sweet taste of chocolate and cherries you will think you are having dessert.
Saturday, 31 March 2018 14:01

Vitamin D: Are you getting enough?

Vitamin D: Are you getting enough?
 
Vitamin D is an essential fat-soluble vitamin. It’s sometimes called the “sunshine vitamin” because our skin makes it when exposed to the sun. 
 
It’s also the most common nutrient deficiency!

Like most vitamins, vitamin D has many functions in the body. It’s mostly known for its ability to help build strong bones. But, vitamin D is also important for a healthy immune system, digestive system, heart and mental health, blood sugar regulation, fertility, and resistance to cancer.
 
FUN FACT: Vitamin D is the vitamin with more scientific articles published since 2000 than any other vitamin.
Saturday, 17 March 2018 12:46

Maple syrup – a seasonal sweet treat

 
Enjoying the sugary sap of a maple tree is a springtime ritual for many Canadian children. During the long winter, the maple tree has the unique characteristic of producing a supply of starch that acts as anti-freeze for its roots. When the snow starts to melt, water trickles into the roots and thus begins the flow of “sugar water” that will eventually be tapped. By mid-March, after the first thaw, the sap is freely flowing and will continue flowing through April.