StevePSmith's Blogs

StevePSmith
Much attention has recently been paid to the potential harm caused by saturated and particularly so-called “trans fats” in the diet. Saturated fats are commonly those derived from animal sources, particularly meat and dairy produce, whereas trans fats are otherwise healthy polyunsaturated oils which have been artificially treated to make them solid at room temperature. These are regarded as especially pernicious because they are very commonly hidden in popular processed foods such as pies, cakes, biscuits, bread and pizza dough, to name but a few.

Amongst the worst effects of trans fats are a dramatic increase in blood levels of low-density lipids (LDL), the so-called “bad cholesterol”, which is known to be a major risk factor in the development of atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) and other forms of cardiovascular disease. And as if this wasn’t bad enough, trans fats also increase the production of the free radicals which oxidise this bad cholesterol.

Some studies, however, suggest that it is not so much the intake of saturated and trans fats in itself which is the problem, but the ratio of saturated fat to polyunsaturated fatty acids consumed, and the replacement of saturated and trans fats with polyunsaturated fatty acids is therefore highly recommended for cardiac health.

In fact large scale studies following tens of thousands of subjects over decades have shown the risk of coronary heart disease to be reduced by as much as a quarter in those obtaining the highest proportion of their energy intake from polyunsaturated fatty acids when compared with those at the lower end of the scale.

The omega 6 fatty acid, linoleic acid, is the polyunsaturate most richly supplied by a normal diet and there is good evidence that those of the omega-6 group are the most effective at reducing blood levels of Low Density Lipids (LDL). Evidence also suggests that although omega 3 fatty acids may help reduce blood triglycerides, which is a significant benefit, they do not have a similar effect on levels of LDL cholesterol. Therefore, although there are undoubted benefits, and especially to cardiovascular health, in increasing intakes of omega 3, particularly through the consumption of oily fish, this should not be allowed to obscure the benefits of omega 6 fatty acids.

The European Commission recommends an omega-6 intake of 4-8% of total daily calorie intake. The World Health Organization, by contrast, currently advocates omega 6 fatty acids intake of 5-8% of total energy requirements; whilst the US Food and Nutrition Board has defined Adequate Intakes (AI) of omega 6 fatty acids as daily levels ranging from 4.4 – 4.6 g for infants under 1 year to as much as 17g and 12g for adult men and women respectively.

The good news is that a decent supply of omega 6 fatty acids should be readily obtainable, because the richest dietary sources of linoleic acid are common vegetable oils like sunflower and safflower, a single tablespoon of each of which may contain as much as 9-10g. Soy, corn and sesame oils are not quite as rich in omega-6, but may still be useful. The bad news is that the processing involved in the commercial production of these oils may strip them of much of their nutritional power.

Worse still, their use in cooking may be just as harmful as the use of saturated or trans fats. But the use of as natural an oil as possible, preferably in its cold state in salads, will help provide omega-6 in its healthiest possible form; and the use of evening primrose or borage oils as supplements is also often recommended by nutritionists. Nuts such as brazils and pecans may also provide a small but useful supply of omega 6 fatty acids.

But which ever source is preferred, omega 6 fatty acids are like all other nutrients in that they function best in the presence of a good supply of all essential vitamins and minerals. There is particular evidence, however, to suggest that polyunsaturated fatty acids, including omega-6, may be more susceptible to oxidative, ie free radical, damage than saturated fats. In order to ensure the maximum possible benefit from omega 6 fatty acids (and for that matter, omega 3) some nutritionists therefore suggest that any increase in intake of polyunsaturates should be accompanied by a corresponding intake in vitamin E, the body’s most important fat-soluble anti-oxidant; an increase which will also deliver numerous health benefits in its own right.

Steve Smith

Omega 6 Fatty Acids, Liquid Vitamins and Minerals
StevePSmith
Much attention has recently been paid to the potential harm caused by saturated and particularly so-called “trans fats” in the diet. Saturated fats are commonly those derived from animal sources, particularly meat and dairy produce, whereas trans fats are otherwise healthy polyunsaturated oils which have been artificially treated to make them solid at room temperature. These are regarded as especially pernicious because they are very commonly hidden in popular processed foods such as pies, cakes, biscuits, bread and pizza dough, to name but a few.

Amongst the worst effects of trans fats are a dramatic increase in blood levels of low-density lipids (LDL), the so-called “bad cholesterol”, which is known to be a major risk factor in the development of atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) and other forms of cardiovascular disease. And as if this wasn’t bad enough, trans fats also increase the production of the free radicals which oxidise this bad cholesterol.

Some studies, however, suggest that it is not so much the intake of saturated and trans fats in itself which is the problem, but the ratio of saturated fat to polyunsaturated fatty acids consumed, and the replacement of saturated and trans fats with polyunsaturated fatty acids is therefore highly recommended for cardiac health.

In fact large scale studies following tens of thousands of subjects over decades have shown the risk of coronary heart disease to be reduced by as much as a quarter in those obtaining the highest proportion of their energy intake from polyunsaturated fatty acids when compared with those at the lower end of the scale.

The omega 6 fatty acid, linoleic acid, is the polyunsaturate most richly supplied by a normal diet and there is good evidence that those of the omega-6 group are the most effective at reducing blood levels of Low Density Lipids (LDL). Evidence also suggests that although omega 3 fatty acids may help reduce blood triglycerides, which is a significant benefit, they do not have a similar effect on levels of LDL cholesterol. Therefore, although there are undoubted benefits, and especially to cardiovascular health, in increasing intakes of omega 3, particularly through the consumption of oily fish, this should not be allowed to obscure the benefits of omega 6 fatty acids.

The European Commission recommends an omega-6 intake of 4-8% of total daily calorie intake. The World Health Organization, by contrast, currently advocates omega 6 fatty acids intake of 5-8% of total energy requirements; whilst the US Food and Nutrition Board has defined Adequate Intakes (AI) of omega 6 fatty acids as daily levels ranging from 4.4 – 4.6 g for infants under 1 year to as much as 17g and 12g for adult men and women respectively.

The good news is that a decent supply of omega 6 fatty acids should be readily obtainable, because the richest dietary sources of linoleic acid are common vegetable oils like sunflower and safflower, a single tablespoon of each of which may contain as much as 9-10g. Soy, corn and sesame oils are not quite as rich in omega-6, but may still be useful. The bad news is that the processing involved in the commercial production of these oils may strip them of much of their nutritional power.

Worse still, their use in cooking may be just as harmful as the use of saturated or trans fats. But the use of as natural an oil as possible, preferably in its cold state in salads, will help provide omega-6 in its healthiest possible form; and the use of evening primrose or borage oils as supplements is also often recommended by nutritionists. Nuts such as brazils and pecans may also provide a small but useful supply of omega 6 fatty acids.

But which ever source is preferred, omega 6 fatty acids are like all other nutrients in that they function best in the presence of a good supply of all essential vitamins and minerals. There is particular evidence, however, to suggest that polyunsaturated fatty acids, including omega-6, may be more susceptible to oxidative, ie free radical, damage than saturated fats. In order to ensure the maximum possible benefit from omega 6 fatty acids (and for that matter, omega 3) some nutritionists therefore suggest that any increase in intake of polyunsaturates should be accompanied by a corresponding intake in vitamin E, the body’s most important fat-soluble anti-oxidant; an increase which will also deliver numerous health benefits in its own right.

Steve Smith

Omega 6 fatty acids
StevePSmith
Much of the misunderstanding surrounding polyunsaturated fatty acids may perhaps be ascribed to the general horror evoked in our society by the very words “fat” and “fatty”. And it’s quite true that saturated fats and so-called “trans-fats” need to be kept to a minimum within a healthy diet. Essential fatty acids, however, are a different matter.

The word “essential”, in this context, means simply that they can be manufactured by the body in only very small quantities, if at all, and a supply must consequently be obtained through the diet. Polyunsaturated fatty acids are also essential, however, in the broader sense that they are a vital part of a properly balanced diet, and play a crucial role in the health and appearance of the whole human organism.

The most important of these essential fatty acids are linoleic acid (omega 6) and alpha-linolenic acid, one of the omega 3 essential fatty acids. Both groups are vital for human health, and the body requires a properly balanced intake of the two. But it’s probably fair to say that it’s the benefits of omega 3 essential fatty acids which are currently attracting the most attention, perhaps because the typical Western diet commonly contains far more omega 6 than omega 3, an imbalance which may have potentially serious health consequences.

The benefits of omega 3 essential fatty acids may include relief for sufferers from numerous conditions, including diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, schizophrenia, bipolar illness and more general depression. But by far the greatest attention has been paid to omega 3’s role as a powerful protector against heart attack, cardiovascular disease and stroke, still amongst the biggest premature killers in the Western world.

Particular attention has been paid to the cardio-protective effects of the omega 3 essential fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid, better known as EPA and DHA respectively. Both EPA and DHA have been shown in a number of studies to reduce levels of blood triglycerides, microscopic particles of fat strongly associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and heart attack. The consumption of oily fish, by far the richest source of EPA and DHA, is therefore now recommended both by nutritionists and orthodox medicine, including the American Heart Association.

In fact regular (ie at least twice weekly 100 g servings) consumption of oily fish and sea food, with correspondingly increased intake of omega 3 essential fatty acids, has been shown in a number of studies to reduce mortality in sufferers from coronary heart disease by as much as one-third.

And large scale studies following thousands of subjects for a decade and more have reported reductions of up to 40-50% in the incidence of coronary heart disease in subjects consuming the highest amounts of omega 3 essential fatty acids; the best protective effect being found in those who did not already consume significant amounts of oily fish and seafood.

There’s also good evidence from studies following tens of thousands of subjects for ten or more years that the risk of sudden death by heart attack, through failure of the heart muscle or arrhythmia, may be reduced by anything up to 50% simply by the weekly consumption of oily fish, a finding supported by evidence that higher blood levels of EPA and DHA also appeared to reduce this risk.

The US Food and Nutrition Board has recommended that infants under 1 year should obtain 0.5 g daily of alpha-linolenic acid, rising gradually to 1.6 g for adult men and 1.1 g for women. The European Commission, by contrast, recommends for adults 2 g per day of omega 3 essential fatty acids, which should include 0.2 g of EPA/DHA.

But since oily fish, such as herring, mackerel, salmon and sardines, tends to form rather a small element of the Western diet, typical daily intakes of EPA and DHA may be as low as 0.04 g. For most individuals, to obtain the benefits of omega 3 essential fatty acids from diet alone would therefore require a very radical change of diet, and supplementation is probably the more attractive option.

Fortunately, odorless and tasteless fish oil supplements are now readily available, and it is also possible to obtain eggs enriched with omega 3 essential fatty acids. It should be noted, however, that polyunsaturated fatty acids may be more prone to oxidative free radical damage than saturated fats, potentially eliminating much of their effectiveness. When supplementing with omega 3 essential fatty acids, it is therefore sensible also to increase intake of vitamin E, the most important fat-soluble anti-oxidant, a move which will also provide numerous cardiac health benefits in its own right.

Steve Smith

More about good nutrition, liquid vitamins and minerals
StevePSmith
Although dietary zinc has been known since the 1960s to play an important role in human health, it was not until as recently as 1990 that its role as an important ant-oxidant was identified. Perhaps not surprisingly, early attention focussed on zinc’s role as an essential mineral for sexual and reproductive health, particularly in the male; but it is now known that its functions are much more numerous. Indeed some nutritional practitioners go so far as to claim that plentiful supplies of dietary zinc are vital for the proper functioning of every cell in the body.

Initial laboratory experiments appeared to show two ways in which zinc discharged its anti-oxidant functions. The first is that dozens of vital enzymes within the body contain zinc and in these enzymes the zinc molecule acts directly as an anti-oxidant, protecting the biochemical structure of the enzyme from free radical attack. Secondly, zinc acts to stabilise proteins which may otherwise react with highly unstable minerals, particularly iron and copper, to form free radicals.

These experimental demonstrations of zinc’s anti-oxidant activity have now been amply confirmed by studies of the effects of zinc deficiencies and supplementation in live humans; and some researchers have given particular attention to zinc’s activity within the brain.

Zinc is found in higher concentrations within the brain than any other essential mineral except iron and is believed to be particularly important in preserving the effectiveness of the so-called “blood brain barrier” (BBB). The purpose of the BB is to protect vital brain and nervous system tissue from the toxins which it might otherwise absorb through the blood supply. The potential problem is that the BBB is made of a highly sensitive and fragile membrane, largely comprised of fatty acids, which is particularly vulnerable to the oxidative damage caused by free radicals.

The supposition is therefore that oxidative stress upon the body may lead to reduced effectiveness of the BBB, with a consequently increased likelihood of degenerative health problems within the brain and nervous system; the best known of these being Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. This supposition has been borne out by laboratory experiments on rats, which have also shown that zinc deficiency in these animals significantly reduces the strength of the BBB.

It is perhaps not surprising, therefore, that zinc deficiency in humans has long been associated with brain pathologies including schizophrenia, multiple sclerosis, dyslexia, Huntington’s disease, various dementias anorexia and depression. The logical corollary of these well-established findings should be that adequate supplies of dietary zinc will protect against these pathologies, perhaps especially those degenerative ones most closely associated with long-term oxidative stress.

Unfortunately, however, it appears that zinc is one of those minerals which it is becoming increasingly difficult to obtain from the daily diet. Soil depletion, environmental pollutants and diets high in refined carbohydrate diets are all implicated in dramatically reducing the amount of zinc active within our bodies; and the problem is especially acute for the elderly, whose less efficient digestive systems often struggle to absorb adequate amounts of the mineral, even supposing that these are present in the diet in the first place.

And these problems are compounded by the fact that the functions of zinc are by no means confined to brain and nervous system health. Adequate zinc is also necessary for the effectiveness of the immune system and wound healing, for reproductive and sexual health, the prevention of degenerative eye disease, the regulation of blood sugar and the maintenance of skin health to name but a few.

Not surprisingly, therefore, nutritional therapists make a strong case for routine zinc supplementation, particularly for the older population, and commonly recommend a daily protective dose of 15–25 mg of zinc per day. Both the US and EU authorities suggest a Recommended Dietary Amount (RDA) of 15 mg, and a good quality multi-mineral product will commonly provide around half this quantity. Higher doses of the single mineral are of course available when required for tackling the conditions detailed above, but more than 200 mg of zinc daily should not be taken for extended periods because this may interfere with the absorption of other minerals.

In this context it should be remembered in any case that the body functions holistically and that all supplements of zinc, of whatever quantity, should be taken together with comprehensive multi-mineral and multi-vitamin preparations.

Steve Smith

More about anti-oxidants, liquid vitamins and minerals
StevePSmith
Although dietary zinc has been known since the 1960s to play an important role in human health, it was not until as recently as 1990 that its role as an important ant-oxidant was identified. Perhaps not surprisingly, early attention focussed on zinc’s role as an essential mineral for sexual and reproductive health, particularly in the male; but it is now known that its functions are much more numerous. Indeed some nutritional practitioners go so far as to claim that plentiful supplies of dietary zinc are vital for the proper functioning of every cell in the body.

Initial laboratory experiments appeared to show two ways in which zinc discharged its anti-oxidant functions. The first is that dozens of vital enzymes within the body contain zinc and in these enzymes the zinc molecule acts directly as an anti-oxidant, protecting the biochemical structure of the enzyme from free radical attack. Secondly, zinc acts to stabilise proteins which may otherwise react with highly unstable minerals, particularly iron and copper, to form free radicals.

These experimental demonstrations of zinc’s anti-oxidant activity have now been amply confirmed by studies of the effects of zinc deficiencies and supplementation in live humans; and some researchers have given particular attention to zinc’s activity within the brain.

Zinc is found in higher concentrations within the brain than any other essential mineral except iron and is believed to be particularly important in preserving the effectiveness of the so-called “blood brain barrier” (BBB). The purpose of the BB is to protect vital brain and nervous system tissue from the toxins which it might otherwise absorb through the blood supply. The potential problem is that the BBB is made of a highly sensitive and fragile membrane, largely comprised of fatty acids, which is particularly vulnerable to the oxidative damage caused by free radicals.

The supposition is therefore that oxidative stress upon the body may lead to reduced effectiveness of the BBB, with a consequently increased likelihood of degenerative health problems within the brain and nervous system; the best known of these being Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. This supposition has been borne out by laboratory experiments on rats, which have also shown that zinc deficiency in these animals significantly reduces the strength of the BBB.

It is perhaps not surprising, therefore, that zinc deficiency in humans has long been associated with brain pathologies including schizophrenia, multiple sclerosis, dyslexia, Huntington’s disease, various dementias anorexia and depression. The logical corollary of these well-established findings should be that adequate supplies of dietary zinc will protect against these pathologies, perhaps especially those degenerative ones most closely associated with long-term oxidative stress.

Unfortunately, however, it appears that zinc is one of those minerals which it is becoming increasingly difficult to obtain from the daily diet. Soil depletion, environmental pollutants and diets high in refined carbohydrate diets are all implicated in dramatically reducing the amount of zinc active within our bodies; and the problem is especially acute for the elderly, whose less efficient digestive systems often struggle to absorb adequate amounts of the mineral, even supposing that these are present in the diet in the first place.

And these problems are compounded by the fact that the functions of zinc are by no means confined to brain and nervous system health. Adequate zinc is also necessary for the effectiveness of the immune system and wound healing, for reproductive and sexual health, the prevention of degenerative eye disease, the regulation of blood sugar and the maintenance of skin health to name but a few.

Not surprisingly, therefore, nutritional therapists make a strong case for routine zinc supplementation, particularly for the older population, and commonly recommend a daily protective dose of 15–25 mg of zinc per day. Both the US and EU authorities suggest a Recommended Dietary Amount (RDA) of 15 mg, and a good quality multi-mineral product will commonly provide around half this quantity. Higher doses of the single mineral are of course available when required for tackling the conditions detailed above, but more than 200 mg of zinc daily should not be taken for extended periods because this may interfere with the absorption of other minerals.

In this context it should be remembered in any case that the body functions holistically and that all supplements of zinc, of whatever quantity, should be taken together with comprehensive multi-mineral and multi-vitamin preparations.

Steve Smith

More about anti-oxidants, liquid vitamins and minerals
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