Protecting Your Brain (and Your Heart) With Fish Oil

Protecting Your Brain (and Your Heart) With Fish Oil

A fascinating idea is how to protect your brain using simple nutrients. Can we protect our brains from depression, Alzheimer’s, even stroke using simple nutrients or over the counter supplements?

The Wall Street Journal just published an interesting article about using fish oil to treat or prevent a variety of illnesses. They even summarize the findings with recommended doses of fish oil. For instance, to prevent heart disease, they recommend one gram of EPA or more per day. For optimum brain health, take one half gram of DHA or more. Even Rheumatoid arthritis may respond to 2 grams or more of fish oil.

Fish oil contains omega-3 fatty acids, of which there are two main ones; EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). Repeat after me if you want to really impress your physician: “eye-coh-sah-pent-ah-eh-no-ick  acid” and “doh-coh-sah-hex-ah-eh-no-ick acid”. Now you see why articles always say EPA and DHA!

There is a very interesting tie in with DHA and Alzheimer’s disease, as explained by an article on medicinenet.com.  It turns out that people with Alzheimer’s disease (AD) tend to have low levels of a brain protein called LR11, and about 15% of those with AD have a gene mutation that reduces LR11. LR11 works to clear the brain of amyloid proteins, which are implicated in the production of beta-amyloid plaque that clogs the neurons of those with AD.  Scientists tested DHA in rodents and in cultures of brain cells, and found that DHA causes higher production of LR11.

So should you be taking fish oil capsules, and how many, and which brand? I’d say if you eat oily fish like salmon 3 times a week or more, don’t worry about it. But for the rest of us (all of us?) it may make sense to add fish oil capsules to our vitamin regimen. A 1999 Italian study found that adding 3 capsules a day reduces the incidence of sudden cardiac death by 45%! The subjects in this study mostly also took baby aspirin, which may work to increase the effects of fish oil.

I’d certainly talk to your doctor about it. Be sure to print out the Wall Street Journal article, which demonstrates that there were few if any side effects. Some doctors think taking fish oil will make you bleed more easily, but studies of very high doses haven’t found this. In fact, the main side effect is belching fish smells, but I have found this is dependent on the brand and type of capsules you take.

Here’s a quick rundown on what to look for in fish oil capsules. First of all, they vary as to how much of the essential ingredients they contain. Most capsules contain 1 gram of oil, but much less Omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA. Some contain as little as 200mg. of the Omega-3’s, which means you have to eat  a LOT of capsules to get much EPA or DHA. Often the bottles will mislead you by citing the amount per serving, and when you look more carefully you will see that one serving is 3 or 4 capsules!

So you want as high a concentration of EPA and DHA as possible. You also want fish oil that has been molecularly distilled to remove any possible contaminants such as pesticides, dioxin, etc.

Although I rarely make product recommendations, I heartily recommend Trader Joe’s Fish Oil capsules. Priced at $7.99 for a bottle of 100 capsules, these capsules are molecularly distilled, and contain 300 mg. of EPA, and 200 mg. of DHA per capsule. That means that 2 capsules make up 1 gram of Omega-3’s.  So it is easy to take 1 or 2 grams of Omega-3’s per day, at an affordable cost. These compare favorably with much more expensive brands of omega-3 capsules.  Another trick is to store these in the refrigerator, so the oil doesn’t turn, and occasionally break open a capsule and smell it. Although it may have a slightly fishy smell, it should smell rancid or strong.

So there you have it, a simple way to reduce heart disease, autoimmune disease and inflammation, and improve brain health. Cost? About $0.16  per day for 2 capsules.

As always, as I am not a physician, and certainly not your physician, talk to your doctor and do your own research before consuming more than a capsule a day of fish oil.

Copyright 2008 The Psychology Lounge/ TPL Productions 

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Dr. Andrew Gottlieb is a clinical psychologist in Palo Alto, California. His practice serves the greater Silicon Valley area, including the towns of San Jose, Cupertino, Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Los Altos, Menlo Park, San Carlos, Redwood City, Belmont, and San Mateo. Dr. Gottlieb specializes in treating anxiety, depression, relationship problems, OCD, and other difficulties using evidence-based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT is a modern no-drug therapy approach that is targeted, skill-based, and proven effective by many research studies. Visit his website at CambridgeTherapy.com or watch Dr. Gottlieb on YouTube. He can be reached by phone at (650) 324-2666 and email at: Dr. Gottlieb Email.

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