November 25, 2013

244 Cholesterol & Saturated Fat [25 Nov 2013]

A few weeks ago (#241 “Fatheads” column) I discussed the importance of good fats for brain health and assured you that you would not be trading a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s for a higher risk of heart disease. Since North Americans have been bombarded with the message of “artery-clogging saturated fats” for 60 years (my entire lifetime) this merits further discussion.

Critics of the cholesterol-saturated-fats-heart-disease theory claim overwhelming evidence that not only are these nutrients not the cause of heart disease, but they are essential for good health including heart health. Here are a few of the studies they cite (source:
• A 2010 meta-analysis found no difference in risk of heart disease and stroke between people with the lowest and highest intakes of saturated fat
• The Framingham Heart study found that those with higher intake of saturated fats and cholesterol actually had lower serum cholesterol and body weight
• A 2010 article in Am J Clin Nutr argues that the benefits of reducing saturated fats depend on what replaces it and concludes “dietary efforts to improve the … CVD risk associated with … dyslipidemia should primarily emphasize the limitation of refined carbohydrate intakes and a reduction in excess adiposity.”

In other words replacing fat in your diet with refined carbohydrates will, as I’ve explained before, lead to insulin resistance, obesity, diabetes, hypertension, high serum triglycerides & LDL cholesterol, and ultimately heart disease. The best way to reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease is to reduce refined carbohydrates and maintain a healthy weight. And saturated fats can safely play a larger role in that plan.

A good source of information on cholesterol is the website by Chris Masterjohn PhD. He explains the problems with the lipid hypothosis and describes the newer “Oxidized LDL” theory which more accurately models the formation of atherosclerosis. The war on cholesterol (and saturated fat) has been misguided at best. As Masterjohn puts it “the war they are waging is not the path of science. Science is not a war against molecules. It is a search for truth.”

For more information on this or other natural health topics, stop in and talk to Stan; for medical advice consult your licensed health practitioner.

November 17, 2013

243 Re-Colonizing Our Gut Flora [18 Nov 2013]

There are about 200 trillion microbe cells of over 1,000 species living in or on our body. Many of these are beneficial to us; most are harmless; and the few that are pathogenic are kept in control by healthy populations of the others. When some of the bad guys proliferate, we become sick and are usually prescribed an antibiotic to get rid of them. The problem with this is that the drug indiscriminately kills all the bacteria in the gut, including the good guys.

Michael Tennesen in an article “The Ecosystem Inside” (Discover, March 2011) described the use of antibiotics as “dropping a bomb on a microbial community”. I use the analogy of spraying your entire lawn with Roundup to kill a few weeds. Sure if the weeds are bad enough it may be justified, but then you need to reseed your lawn right away or it will grow up with solid weeds the following year. Healthy grass is the best way to control weeds.

Similarly antibiotic use often results in various digestive complaints due to the loss of beneficial bacteria, but can occasionally lead to something more serious. After an antibiotic treatment pathogens are able to repopulate the microbial desert that your gut has become and grow unchecked. Then you become really sick and antibiotics may no longer be effective. A good example is Clostridium difficile, a bacterium which causes life-threatening diarrhea.

A novel treatment that has shown great promise in dealing with C difficile is fecal transplants – implanting fecal material from a healthy donor into the patient’s gut to replenish the beneficial flora. A recently published trial in the Netherlands had a 93% success rate with fecal transplants compared to 31% for vancomycin, the usual antibiotic for this infection. Other trials are underway around the world.

But you don’t need to wait for a serious infection, or to go to the extreme of a fecal transplant, to replenish your gut flora following antibiotics. Probiotics, sold in most health food stores and pharmacies, provide beneficial bacteria of known species and strains. Probiotics now come in potencies of 50, 80 and even 100 billion, strong enough to quickly recolonize the gut and prevent serious infections.

"The Ecosystem Inside", Michael Tennesen, Discover magazine, March 2011
"Fighting Microbes with Microbes", Margaret Munro, PostMedia News, Star Phoenix, Nov 13, 2013
"Duodenal infusion of donor feces for recurrent Clostridium difficile" NEJM 16 Jan 2013

For more information on this or other natural health topics, stop in and talk to Stan; for medical advice consult your licensed health practitioner.

November 12, 2013

242 Exercise for your Brain [12 Nov 2013]

The third way to improve your brain’s health and lower your risk of dementia, as described in the book “Grain Brain” by David Perlmutter, MD, after reducing carbs and increasing good fats, is exercise. That’s physical exercise, not mental exercise like playing Scrabble© and doing crossword puzzles (which also helps but surprisingly not as much).

Perlmutter is not alone in promoting exercise to improve our brains. Various studies have found that exercise benefits our brains in many ways and at all ages from elementary school students to seniors:
• exercising before a test increased scores by 17%
• the fittest Grade 6 students scored 30% higher on tests
• 40 minutes daily exercise increased IQ by 3.8 points
• older students who play vigorous sports improved 20% in math, science, English and social studies
• employees who exercise regularly are 15% more efficient

So how exactly does exercise benefit our brain? Exercise:
• promotes growth of new brain cells, a process called neurogenesis
• promotes production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) which improves brain function and enhances learning, and helps preserve our existing brain cells
• reverses shrinkage of the hippocampus (the memory and learning part of the brain affected by Alzheimer’s)
• protects the brain from atrophy and white matter lesion in seniors
• improves our brain’s ability to handle stress and reduces anxiety
• increases blood flow to the brain, and
• reduces risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke.

A variety of exercise works best. Both aerobic and resistance training are important for maintaining brain health as we age. I started working out at the Rosetown Fitness Centre last month to get more fit, build some muscle, and keep my fat weight down. Looks like I might be getting smarter too!

For more information on this or other natural health topics, stop in and talk to Stan; for medical advice consult your licensed health practitioner.

November 4, 2013

241 We’re All “Fatheads” [4 November 2013]

Last week I discussed the book “Grain Brain” by David Perlmutter, MD which argued “…to a large extent numerous neurological conditions often reflect the mistake of consuming too many carbs and not enough healthy fats”. Last week I concentrated on reducing carbs; this week I want to focus on the other half of the equation – increasing good fats. Perlmutter suggests that up to 75% of our diets should be fat, rather than the current average of 20%.

Our bodies, and particularly our brains, require fat for optimal health. Our brains are 60-70% fat, so if someone calls you a “fathead” they are right – but that’s a good thing because our brains couldn’t function without it. Saturated fats are an essential component of brain cells. Similarly cholesterol is essential for every cell of the body and particularly for the brain. The brain contains 25% of our body’s cholesterol, and it’s there for a reason. Cholesterol is essential for proper brain and nervous system function. It facilitates nerve cell communication and acts as an antioxidant to protect the brain. Vitamin D is essential for brain health and is synthesized in our skin from cholesterol.

So do we have to trade off increased risk of heart disease and early death to enjoy a healthy brain? Fortunately, not at all! The same dietary changes that reduce risk of dementia also lower your risk of heart disease, diabetes, and death. Recent research has found that elderly people with the lowest cholesterol levels are at the highest risk for Alzheimer’s and of death from all causes, while those with the highest cholesterol have a significantly lower risk for dementia.

Good fats include olive oil, butter, coconut oil, nuts, avocado, eggs and fatty fish like salmon. Bad fats to avoid are trans fats and hydrogenated (artificially saturated) fats – the fats found in most processed foods. Cooking oils that have been processed to prolong shelf life are also best avoided. Dr. Perlmutter also recommends an Omega 3 essential fatty acid supplement high in DHA.

Finally, Perlmutter also promotes physical exercise as beneficial for the brain. More on that topic next week.

For more information on this or other natural health topics, stop in and talk to Stan; for medical advice consult your licensed health practitioner.