Friday, February 27, 2009

Nutritional compounds with promise in Alzheimer's syndrome

Anyone experiencing Alzheimer's disease firsthand probably has wondered if there is any extra "edge" they might obtain for their own risk from nutritional supplementation. A group of researchers recently reported that a combination supplement reduced the levels of already existing specific oxidative marker levels by 57% and prevented the reappearance of new molecules.

The supplement used in this study contained the following compounds: alpha-lipoic acid, acetyl-l-carnitine, glycerophosphocoline, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and phosphatidylserine.

I don't know about you, but this is one condition I'd rather not give a head start to my brain, and one I'm happy to be proactive when it comes to my current supplemental choices.

Suchy J, Chan A, Shea TB. Dietary supplementation with a combination of alpha-lipoic acid, acetyl-L-carnitine, glycerophosphocoline, docosahexaenoic acid, and phosphatidylserine reduces oxidative damage to murine brain and improves cognitive performance. Nutr Res. 2009 Jan;29(1):70-4.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Is your chia pet a hidden nutritional surprise?

Risperidone (Risperdal) is a common antipsychotic medication that was recently investigated for its influence on omega-3 fatty acid metabolism.

Rats were placed on two different diets, one containing alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) and one that was ALA-deficient. Then both groups were administered a dose of risperidone.

This research design was used because ALA can be converted to docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and the purpose of the study was to evaluate the influence of risperidone on this conversion.

In rats not fed ALA, there was a significant increase in tissue DHA in the presence of risperidone, suggesting that this medication helps to increase the conversion of ALA to DHA. When there was ALA in the diet, this was not observed, suggesting that when there is enough ALA available, there is no need for any augmentation of pre-existing mechanisms.

Some questions and comments:

1. This will be an interesting line of research to determine whether schizophrenia is related to nutritional imbalances and/or deficiencies, whether there might be different types of schizophrenia, some nutritionally instigated and aggravated, others not.

2. Seems that a dietary strategy of increased ALA isn't a bad idea if you struggle with schizophrenia.

3. At this point, it is NOT rational to assume that increasing dietary ALA will eliminate the need for antipsychotic medications.

4. At the same time, it doesn't make sense to use a prescription medication to correct a nutritionally-relevant problem.

If you balance the diet and focus on adequate ALA, the amount of medication you might actually need might decrease, therefore reducing the risk of metabolic side effects.

For those who are interested, foods that are good sources of ALA include: canola oil, whole soybeans, walnuts, salva (chia), ground flaxseeds, and flaxseed oil.

McNamara RK, Able JA, Jandacek R, Rider T, Tso P. Chronic risperidone treatment preferentially increases rat erythrocyte and prefrontal cortex omega-3 fatty acid composition: Evidence for augmented biosynthesis. Schizophr Res. 2009 Feb;107(2-3):150-7. Epub 2008 Nov 7.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Diet and Parkinson's disease

I've been studying nutrition and the brain for awhile now, and it's clear I'm a big fan of omega-3 fatty acids. It's only been recently that their role in Parkinson's disease prevention is becoming clear.

Oxidative stress, or aging, is to the brain what rust is to your car. In Parkinson's disease, oxidation appears to significantly affect the brain systems regulating dopamine.

In this study, rat brain tissue was exposed to several by-products of fatty acids found in the brain, docosahexaenoic acid and arachidonic acid. It turned out that the arachidonic acid--derived compound was the most toxic to brain cells.

Arachidonic acid is derived from two main sources, certain dietary oils, and meats. It's fairly easy to identify the oils that promote arachidonic acid production. They tend to be those, which in English, begin with the letters "S" and "C"; soybean, safflower, sunflower, sesame, corn, cottonseed...the only exception would be canola. These oils have been unloaded into the food supply in recent years and as they have, many diseases, not just Parkinson's, have been on the upswing. Start reading your labels!

Arachidonic acid is also found in meat. So if you are eating large portions of meat instead of balancing your protein with other types of food, your diet may be out of balance and promoting inflammation/oxidation/aging, particularly in the nervous system. Some rules to follow which you've heard before, for other reasons, include: eat more seafood and less red meat, eat more vegetarian meals, and limit your meat portions to the size of the palm of your hand without the fingers.

Parkinson's is not a problem to be taken lightly. If you have ever known someone who has had to deal with the tremors and deterioration in quality of know what I mean. Some very simple dietary choices may help you to delay or prevent having to personally deal with this challenging diagnosis.

Liu X, Yamada N, Maruyama W, Osawa T. Formation of dopamine adducts derived from brain polyunsaturated fatty acids: mechanism for Parkinson disease. J Biol Chem. 2008 Dec 12;283(50):34887-95. Epub 2008 Oct 15.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Are "vegetarians" at risk for depression?

One of my biggest jobs in this specialty is clarifying what vegetarian eating IS...and what it is NOT. Unfortunately, the vast majority of people I know who are vegetarian define that by describing what they DON'T eat, rather than what they DO eat. That is why the word "vegetarians" is in quotes in my title, because it refers to what many vegetarians consider the definition, and that is absolutely not what I define it as.

My definition of vegetarian is a person who replaces the essential nutrients found in animal based foods with non-animal sources.

People who don't eat fish have an incredibly difficult time getting omega-3 fatty acids, because they are primarily found in seafood. In addition, if they're eating more salads, thinking they are "healthy", they may be getting excessive amounts of the proinflammatory omega-6 fatty acids, which are often the base for commercial salad dressings.

"Vegetarians" with a more disordered bent to their habits, who are filling up on baked goods and processed foods, are also prone to excessive omega-6 fatty acids.

Which may explain the findings of this most recent study. Women experiencing psychological distress and symptoms of depression were divided into two groups. (It is my experience that of the two genders, women are the guiltiest when it comes to not eating meat and subsisting on salads and carbs.) The first group received 1.05 grams of EPA (a pretty hefty dose, given that most fish oil capsules have only 20-30% of that amount) plus .15 grams DHA. The second group received a placebo. They received this dose for 8 weeks.

The women on the fish oil supplement showed a degree of decrease in symptoms that the women on placebo did not.

Of the two omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil, EPA is the one that is primarily found in fish. So if you're not eating fish, and you are having trouble with depression, chances are your food choices have something to do with that!

If you can't, off the top of your head, list five significant sources of DHA, your only other source of EPA (it can be converted when DHA stores are sufficient and there is excess in your diet), you're not getting enough. For a list of food products containing marine-algae based here.

And, if your diet is heavy on processed foods and salads, and you are using salad dressings based on soybean or corn're likely breaking down whatever omega-3's are in your system before you can even benefit from them.

Maybe now you can see why I'm so fussy about where the line should officially be drawn between vegetarian and omnivore. It's not at all about what you don't's about what you DO eat.

Lucas M, Asselin G, Mérette C, Poulin MJ, Dodin S. Ethyl-eicosapentaenoic acid for the treatment of psychological distress and depressive symptoms in middle-aged women: a double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized clinical trial. Am J Clin Nutr. 2009 Feb;89(2):641-51. Epub 2008 Dec 30.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Iron and restless legs

It is becoming more well known that iron status and restless legs are connected. Many times when I share restless legs information on my Facebook page, someone will comment with a reminder of this connection.

I love that we're making a nutritional connection with such an uncomfortable problem.

However, it is important to remember, as was confirmed in a recent article reviewing numerous accepted treatments for restless legs, that iron supplementation is most likely to help the condition if there is a standing iron deficiency. If iron status is adequate, "topping off", so to speak, isn't going to fix the problem.


...if you've got restless legs and you haven't checked your iron status, might be a good idea.

...if your iron levels are low, try an iron supplement.


...if your iron status is fine, and/or you've tried the iron and your legs are still moving,

...consider that there are other options that may provide more relief.

Nutrition is a great place to start, and being well-nourished before trying medication is always a great strategy, but don't stop there if it doesn't turn out to be the answer.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Yes, the solution can be worse than the problem

Stress exposure, and post-traumatic stress disorder, are horrible problems. I've seen them wreak havoc on peace of mind, careers, and relationships. I think sometimes, being on the outside looking at a friend, loved one, or patient going through something we'll never completely understand because we simply did not live through it, creates anxiety because we have no productive outlet for the compassion and healing we want to provide.

As much as the object of our concern may be struggling, and as hard as we may want to be the source of relief for their pain, we need to always be careful that the help we provide is not being administered on behalf of our own pain, and not the person who is truly suffering.

For example, consider this recent study, that looked at the consequences of administering alprazolam (Xanax), a benzodiazepene anxiolytic, to a stress-exposed individual.

Animals exposed to stress were then given alprazolam on two different schedules; one group was medicated for 3 days starting 1 hour after the stress, while the other group received the medication for 3 days starting a week later. Each group was tested for symptoms of PTSD 30 days after the initial trauma.

Those animals who were immediately medicated experienced immediate relief, with now observable problems at day 30. Sounds good, except that when the rats were exposed to the same trauma a second time, they had a greater "freezing response" (something that traumatized animals and people do in stressful situations).

Early exposure also disrupted normal stress hormone function both during and outside of the second stress exposure.

So while we might feel better giving someone medicine to help them feel better, we may actually be the only ones who feel better. In the long run, the person may suffer more and longer than if we'd let them process the trauma in the way the body is programmed to naturally do, providing a safe, supportive place to heal and only introducing chemical intervention if it is deemed absolutely necessary.

Matar MA, Zohar J, Kaplan Z, Cohen H. Alprazolam treatment immediately after stress exposure interferes with the normal HPA-stress response and increases vulnerability to subsequent stress in an animal model of PTSD. Eur Neuropsychopharmacol. 2009 Jan 22. [Epub ahead of print]

Monday, February 9, 2009

More on zinc and depression

In my last post, I described a study in which zinc was shown to enhance antidepressant activity. In this study, rats whose depression and anxiety-related behaviors had been successfully treated with antidepressants were then placed on a zinc-deficient diet.

What happened?

They started to act anxious and depressed again.

We live in a culture that has created the mentality that if you're not feeling well, you go to the doctor, she prescribes you a pill, you take the pill, and you feel all better.

Unfortunately, pills can only work some of the time. And they tend to work best when you're using them in conjunction with healthy self-care behaviors. As far as I know, and I am a voracious consumer of psychiatric and neurological research, there is no pill developed that will overcome what you choose not to do.

Medication, in most cases, should be considered an ADJUNCT to treatment, not the ONLY solution to a medical problem.

The whammy here is that when you're depressed, it can be challenging to feel like doing anything for yourself at all. If you're not up to "healthy living" but you ARE motivated to take your prescription least consider taking a zinc supplement alongside the prescription. They are easy to find and inexpensive.

And they just might be what determines whether you crawl out of that whole.....

...or feel hopelessly stuck there.

Whittle N, Lubec G, Singewald N. Zinc deficiency induces enhanced depression-like behaviour and altered limbic activation reversed by antidepressant treatment in mice. Amino Acids. 2009 Jan;36(1):147-58. Epub 2008 Oct 31.

Friday, February 6, 2009

A little red meat may help your depression

If you have depression, you are not depressed because there is a deficiency of antidepressants in your body...

...however... may be depressed because you have some basic nutritional deficiencies. One mineral that is involved in numerous brain and nervous system functions, and that has been extensively studied with regards to its role in the development of depression, is zinc.

Various doses of zinc were recently shown to improve immobility time in rats. Immobility in a stressful situation is a common behavior in depression. (When you are not depressed, you have better decision making and response times when it comes to managing stressful situations.)

That's exactly what fluoxetine (Prozac), paroxetine (Paxil), imipramine (Tofranil), desipramine (Norpramin), and bupropion (Wellbutrin) do!

When zinc and antidepressants were administered together, immobility time was reduced by more than either therapy produced on its own.

Practically what that says is that:
(1) if you are at risk for, or have had a history of depression, emphasizing high-zinc dietary choices and/or zinc supplementation would be a smart strategy, and
(2) if you are on an antidepressant, supplementing with zinc would be important to be sure that you get enough medication to do the job without getting so much that you set yourself up for detrimental side effects.

In fact, it seems to me that it should be an automatic recommendation of any physician, when prescribing an antidepressant, to write "zinc supplement" in the script as well...

FYI, your best sources of zinc include: red meats, liver, and oyster. And, when the originating soil is in good condtion...wheat, sweet corn, lettuce, beans, nuts, almonds, whole grains, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds and blackcurrant. That's a lot of different options, something for practically everyone, meat eater or not!

Cunha MP, Machado DG, Bettio LE, Capra JC, Rodrigues AL. Interaction of zinc with antidepressants in the tail suspension test. Prog Neuropsychopharmacol Biol Psychiatry. 2008 Dec 12;32(8):1913-20. Epub 2008 Sep 11.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Your medications and your genes

DNA and genetics are not my areas of specialty but I found this study very interesting and wanted to share it. Anyone who does have expertise on this...please respond!

Alprazolam (Xanax), a popular tranquilizer, was recently reported to "intercalate" with DNA. I'm providing a link to a Wikipedia piece on what intercalation short, I gather it means that somehow Xanax incorporates itself into the structure of DNA itself. Which would mean, that it potentially changes how the DNA expresses itself. This finding prompted the research to issue caution about the random use of Xanax.

Makes me wonder when I see all these medications that are associated with weight gain, if other medications have the same ability? And it also makes me wonder if other compounds, even certain foods, might also affect DNA structure and function.

It's a whole lot more complex than "eat less and exercise more"...which is why I love reporting on this specialty so much! There is always something new and different to share that provides a potential answer to someone doing a Google search.

Saha B, Mukherjee A, Santra CR, Chattopadhyay A, Ghosh AN, Choudhuri U, Karmakar P. Alprazolam intercalates into DNA. J Biomol Struct Dyn. 2009 Feb;26(4):421-30.