Category Archives: omega-3

June is Alzheimer’s Brain Awareness Month

brain, health, alzheimer's, cognitiveWith so much focus on diet and exercise helping the heart, brain health may take a back seat in the wellness arena. However, the brain is the control center of the body, and in turn must not be neglected. During the month of June, it’s especially important to be aware of the brain disease known as Alzheimer’s. You may have heard of it before, but may not know what it entails. Let’s learn more about this disease and how you can be an advocate for this devastating brain health condition.

Alzheimer’s basics

Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is a progressive and irreversible brain health condition that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills. Although some memory loss may be a normal part of aging, the severity of symptoms in Alzheimer’s is not a normal part of aging. More than 5 million people in the United States suffer from this type of dementia. And along with this number, there are countless other people, including loved ones and caregivers, that have to live everyday watching those they care about suffer from this disease.

Causes of Alzheimer’s include plaques and tangles in the brain. These plaques form from abnormal deposits of protein in the brain. Also, the damage caused by these deposits typically start in the hippocampus and entorhinal complex of the brain. And its these parts of the brain that are vital in forming memories. Over time, more neurons die and other parts of the brain begin to shrink.

It is not fully understood why certain people may be more at risk for this disease. However, it’s thought that less than 1-percent is from genetic changes, while for most people it is likely a combination of genetic, lifestyle, and environmental factors.

Early symptoms of Alzheimer’s 

The early symptoms of this disease may be things as simple as forgetting recent events or conversations. These memory problems are one of the first signs of Alzheimer’s disease. However, other red flags of the disease may include:

  • repeating statements over and over again
  • forgetting appointments and events and not remembering them later
  • frequently losing things
  • getting lost in familiar places
  • forgetting the names of family members and everyday objects
  • having trouble thinking of words to describe common objects or hold a simple conversation

If you, your family member ,or someone you know exhibits any of these symptoms, it may be time to visit the doctor. This is because a complete physical exam, detailed neurological exam, and mental status exam can help diagnose Alzheimer’s or whatever other condition may be causing symptoms.

Later symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease

In the later stages of the disease, you may start to see some of the following symptoms:

  • inability to learn new things
  • trouble with simple activities of daily living like bathing, dressing, and eating.
  • Hallucinations
  • Paranoia
  • Impulsive behavior

Alzheimer’s research

Recent research shows that there are currently not many treatments for AD. One medicine is a cholinesterase inhibitor. This medicine is for those with mild, moderate, or severe AD.  This medicine is also give to those with Parkinson’s dementia. Memantine is another medicine that is approved in use for those with moderate and severe AD who show difficulty in attention and alertness.

Besides such treatments, research shows an independent link between vitamin D deficiency and AD. Therefore, those with symptoms should have their vitamin D levels tested for this vitamin.

Another nutrition-related link with AD has to do with omega-3 fatty acids. This is because research shows the heart health of individuals correlates with brain health. In fact, recent reviews show that those who eat a heart healthy diet based on the Mediterranean diet have a lower risk of cognitive decline compared to those on other eating regimens.

Future research

Future research of Alzheimer’s has to do with targeting the plaques and tangles in the brain. However, researchers cannot yet seem to agree on what abnormality has the most impact on cognitive decline. That is why it’s important now to support research efforts that will help find more effective treatment for this terrifying condition.

How you can support research

Be sure to visit the Alzheimer’s Association website for more ideas on ways you can help support Alzheimer’s research. Also, hashtag #endalz in your social media posts this month to show your support in Alzheimer’s disease awareness.

How you can keep your brain healthy

As mentioned before, some research is showing that lifestyle changes like diet may help brain health. Read below for specific things you can do to help keep your brain healthy.

  • Exercise your brain with puzzles and word games: This is thought to keep building connections between nerve cells and may even help generate new brain cells.
  • Exercise your body: Walking, jogging, swimming, and dancing, to name a few can help keep your heart and brain strong. Not only can it help create new nerve cell connections, but can improve blood pressure and cholesterol that can also help brain health.
  • Improve your numbers: Help keep your blood glucose, cholesterol, and blood pressure in healthy ranges by eating healthier. This means more plant-based foods in the diet like fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats. Healthy fats can include olive oil, avocado, nuts, seeds, and olives, to name a few.
  • Avoid tobacco and limit alcohol: Smoking can constrict blood vessels and increase heart health risk, while excessive alcohol intake is a major risk factor for dementia. Therefore visit your healthcare provider or websites like SAMHSA.gov to help you quit smoking and abusing alcohol.
  • Reduce stress and increase social support:  Those with a lower risk of dementia also have strong social ties. Also, people who are anxious or with depression tend to score lower on cognitive function tests. Therefore, be sure to keep a support system around you of friends, neighbors, loved ones, and healthcare providers to keep your brain healthy.
  • Take a daily supplement:  Vitamin deficiencies like vitamin D are often seen in those with cognitive health issues. Also, omega-3 fatty acids may help improve brain health. Therefore, if you don’t eat enough healthy fats and vitamins in your diet it may be time to add a dietary supplement to your daily routine. The fish oil supplement produced by Vita Sciences can be a great addition to your healthy lifestyle routine.

-written by Staci Gulbin, MS, MEd, RD

References:

Harvard Health Publishing: Harvard Medical School (updated January 16, 2018) “12 ways to keep your brain young.”

Kumar, A. and Tsao, J.W. (last updated December 18, 2018) “Alzheimer disease.” StatPearls

Mayo Clinic (December 8, 2018) “Alzheimer’s disease.”

National Institute on Aging (accessed June 12, 2019) “Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias.”

Weller, J and Budson, A. (July 2018) “Current understanding of Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis and treatment.”  F1000Res., 7:F1000 Faculty Rev-1161.

 

 

 


  • Could fish oil lower your risk of stroke?

    fish oil. stroke, healthy fat, health, heart healthStroke continues to be one of the top ten leading causes of death in the United States.  And even if a person survives a stroke, they may face permanent disability from a stroke. In turn, having a stroke could greatly impact a person’s quality of life. This is why it’s so important to keep learning more about how this disease can be prevented. A recent study shows that taking a fish oil supplement each day may help lower risk of stroke.

    What is stroke?

    Stroke is a form of vascular disease that affects the arteries to and within the brain.  A stroke occurs when these vessels become blocked by a clot or bursts. A stroke caused by a blockage is called an ischemic stroke. On the other hand, a stroke called by a ruptured vessel is called a hemorrhagic stroke.

    Since these arteries normally carry oxygen and blood to the brain, this blockage can be deadly. If the brain, or the control center of your body, doesn’t receive oxygen or nutrients, then brain cells can die. This in turn can wreak havoc all over your body.

    Depending on what area of the brain the stroke occurs, different complications can occur. A right brain stroke can cause paralysis on the left side of the body, vision problems, and memory loss. On the other hand, a stroke on the left side of the brain can cause paralysis on the right side of the body, speech problems, and memory loss.

    Either way, these complications can greatly affect quality of life. However, by taking care of your heart health, you can lower your risk of stroke.

    What is fish oil?

    Fish oil is a supplement that contains omega-3 fatty acids. Two of the primary long-chain omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil supplements are DHA, or docosahexaenoic acid, and EPA, or eicosapentaenoic acid.  These fatty acids are marine-based, hence fish oil supplements.

    The omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) are well-known for their role in heart health. Study results show that fish oil works well as a supportive treatment, along with statins, to help lower heart disease risk. The average fish oil supplement provides about 1000 milligram of fish oils, containing about 180 mg EPA and 120 mg DHA or more.

    An example of a high quality fish oil supplement is the formula developed by Vita Sciences. This fish oil by Vita Sciences contains 400mg of EPA and 300mg of DHA in a 1000 milligram fish oil supplement.

    Stroke and fish oil research

    A recent study analyzed data from about 55,000 people enrolled in the Danish Diet, Cancer and Health study. They completed dietary surveys and had baseline adipose tissue analysis completed. Then, the individuals had follow-up assessments after 13.5 years to check for ischemic stroke status events, if any.

    Study results show that those with higher adipose tissue content of EPA showed a lower risk of total ischemic stroke.  Also, lower rates of large artery atherosclerosis were seen with higher intakes of total marine n-3 PUFA, EPA, and DHA.

    Other ways to reduce stroke risk

    Besides taking a fish oil supplement each day, here are some other ways you can lower your stroke risk.

    • Quit smoking if you already do. This is because smoking can constrict blood vessels. This, in turn, can raise blood pressure and increase risk of stroke.
    • Maintain heart health by keeping blood pressure and cholesterol levels in a healthy range. You can do this by eating a diet rich in fiber and antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fats. Also, be sure to move more on a regular basis to keep your heart muscle strong and maintain a healthy weight.
    • Keep your blood glucose levels in a healthy range. This is because those with diabetes are at higher risk for heart health issues than those without diabetes.
    • Visit your doctor regularly. By having your labs done at least yearly (or more often if you have a chronic disease risk), you can track your progress. Early detection of heart health issues can help lower your risk of stroke.

    -written by Staci Gulbin, MS, MEd, RD

    References:

    American Stroke Association (accessed January 23, 2019) “About Stroke.”

    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (last reviewed November 28, 2017) “Stroke.” https://www.cdc.gov/stroke/index.htm

    Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health (accessed January 23, 2019) “Omega-3 Fatty Acids: An Essential Contribution.” https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/fats-and-cholesterol/types-of-fat/omega-3-fats/

    Hughes, S. (January 17, 2019) “Fish Oil, Particularly EPA, Linked to Reduced Ischemic Stroke.” https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/907950

    National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements (last updated November 21, 2018) “Omega-3 Fatty Acids.”

    Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (last updated October 29, 2018) “Reduce Your Risk of Stroke.”


  • Could a Mediterranean diet improve your brain health?

    heart, cardiovascular, brain, heart healthy, omega-3, vessel, cholesterol, diabetesYou can’t talk about a heart healthy lifestyle without at least referring to the Mediterranean diet. That’s because this Greek-style eating plan is full of heart healthy foods and other healthful tips. But did you know that this diet is also good for brain health? Recent research shows that certain nutrients found in the Mediterranean diet can help with brain health aging in older adults.

    What is the Mediterranean diet?

    The Mediterranean diet is a heart healthy diet based on healthy fats like olive oil. Along with olive oil, healthy fat-containing foods like fatty fish, avocado, olives, nuts, and seeds make up the largest portion of the diet. The omega-3 fatty acids in these foods can help lower blood fats, also known as triglycerides. In addition, these fats can also help improve blood pressure and blood vessel health.

    The majority of foods in this eating plan are plant-based. In other words, this means eating plenty of antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables. These foods will also provide fiber and important nutrients like potassium, magnesium, and vitamins C and E. This also means switching to whole grains if you’re going to eat breads or pastas.  Also, it encourages consuming fiber and protein-rich plant foods like beans, peas, nuts, and seeds.

    Other eating guidelines of this diet include limiting whole-fat dairy products, red meat, processed foods, and foods high in sodium. This eating plan also encourages use of spices to flavor food instead of using table salt.  Finally, to maintain a balanced healthy lifestyle, this diet encourages exercise and eating meals with family and friends.

    Mediterranean diet and brain health

    A recent study looked at healthy, older adults and how a Greek-style diet affected brain health. MRI scans and cognitive function tests measured brain health. These tests were done throughout the study and two years after the study to assess the diet’s impact on brain health.

    The researchers focused on 32 nutrients found in this diet. These nutrients included folate, vitamin B12, riboflavin, and vitamin D. Also, the researchers looked at antioxidants found in the Greek-style diet like omega-3 fatty acids, lycopene, and carotenoids. Study results show that such nutrients, along with omega-6 fatty acids, were involved in biomarker patterns. Also, those people who ate foods with such nutrients had better results on cognitive function tests of general intelligence, memory, and executive functions like attentional and inhibition control.

    Take home message

    So, if the heart healthy benefits of this eating plan haven’t convinced you to go Greek-style in your eating, hopefully the brain health factors did. This is because this diet has shown time and again that it ranks on top for health benefits.  Therefore, take small steps towards such an eating plan. You can do this by starting to eat more vegetables one day. Then maybe trying new recipes that use olive oil to roast or stir-fry those vegetables. Finally, you can add in nuts and/or seeds as snacks for even more healthy fats and fiber.

    If you feel like a supplement would help you at first, then try an omega-3 fatty acid supplement. An example of a high quality omega-3 fatty acid is the fish oil supplement by Vita Sciences. This fish oil supplement contains a healthy balance of EPA and DhA, which are two important omega-3 fatty acids for brain health. Not to mention that this supplement is burpless and ensures optimal purity.

    Therefore, if you’re thinking about starting a healthy lifestyle this new year, consider the Greek-style diet. Not only will it help you work towards just about any health goal you have, but it will taste fresh and delicious in the process.

    References:

    Mayo Clinic (November 3, 2017) “Mediterranean diet: A heart-healthy eating plan.”

    Paddock, Ph.D., C. (December 21, 2018) “Mediterranean diet nutrients tied with healthy brain aging.” Medical News Today.

    Romagnolo, D. F., & Selmin, O. I. (2017). “Mediterranean Diet and Prevention of Chronic Diseases.” Nutrition today52(5), 208-222.

    Zwilling, C.E., Talukdar, T., Zamroziewicz, M.K., and Barney, A.K. (March 2019) “Nutrient biomarker patterns, cognitive function, and fMRI measures of network efficiency in the aging brain.” NeuroImage, Volume 188, 239-251.