Could salmon and sunshine prevent brain damage?

Brain-damageWant to keep your brain in tip-top condition? Then you may want to put mackerel and mushrooms on your menu or start eating your salmon in the sun!

That’s because a new study led by University of Kentucky researchers suggests that a diet low in vitamin D causes damage to the brain.

In addition to being essential for maintaining bone health, new evidence shows that vitamin D serves important roles in other organs and tissue, including the brain.

The study, published in Free Radical Biology and Medicine showed that middle-aged rats that were fed a diet low in vitamin D for several months developed free radical damage to the brain. Additionally, many different brain proteins were damaged.  The vitamin D deficient rats also showed a significant decrease in cognitive performance on tests of learning and memory.

“Given that vitamin D deficiency is especially widespread among the elderly, we investigated how during aging from middle-age to old-age how low vitamin D affected the oxidative status of the brain,” said lead author on the paper Allan Butterfield, professor of Chemistry, director of the Center of Membrane Sciences, faculty of Sanders-Brown Center on Aging, and director of the Free Radical Biology in Cancer Core of the Markey Cancer Center. “Adequate vitamin D serum levels are necessary to prevent free radical damage in brain and subsequent deleterious consequences.”

vitamin D bookPreviously, low levels of vitamin D have been associated with Alzheimer’s disease, and it’s also been linked to the development of certain cancers and heart disease.

The elderly are particularly prone to have low vitamin D levels.

Butterfield recommends that people consult their physicians to have their vitamin D levels determined. If they turn out to be low it’s important to normalize them either through diet or sunlight exposure to help protect the brain.

low that they eat foods rich in vitamin D, take vitamin D supplements, and/or get at least 10-15 minutes of sun exposure each day to ensure that vitamin D levels are normalized and remain so to help protect the brain.
Surprisingly few foods contain vitamin D.  That’s because your body is built to get it from sunlight skin rather than from food. However, if your body has enough, it doesn’t matter whether you got it through your skin or through your stomach.

SalmonThere are three vitamin D super foods:

  • Salmon (especially wild-caught)
  • Mackerel (especially wild-caught)
  • Mushrooms (exposed to ultraviolet light)

Other food sources of vitamin D include:

  • Cod liver oil
  • Tuna canned in water
  • Sardines canned in oil
  • Milk or yogurt – fortified with vitamin D
  • Beef or calf liver
  • Egg yolks
  • Cheese

sunlightIf all that sounds a little too fishy for you, then you can boost your vitamin D from 10-15 minutes of sun exposure a day.

I’m off to get mine now!

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Beans, Broccoli and Bluefin could help new moms beat the “Baby Blues”

According to an article published last week in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, postpartum depression may be caused by low levels of omega-3 fatty acids.

For the 70-80% of all new mothers who experience some negative feelings or mood swings after the birth of their child could the answer lie with legumes?

Women are at the highest risk of depression during their childbearing years, and the birth of a child may trigger a depressive episode in vulnerable women. Postpartum depression is associated with diminished maternal health as well as developmental and health problems for her child.

Symptoms of “baby blues” include:

  • Weepiness or crying for no apparent reason
  • Impatience
  • Irritability
  • Restlessness
  • Anxiety
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Sadness
  • Mood changes
  • Poor concentration

Gabriel Shapiro of the University of Montreal and the Research Centre at the Sainte-Justine Mother and Child Hospital says “The literature shows that there could be a link between pregnancy, omega-3 and the chemical reaction that enables serotonin, a mood regulator, to be released into our brains.”

Because omega-3 is transferred from the mother to her fetus and later to her breastfeeding infant, maternal omega-3 levels decrease during pregnancy, and remain lowered for at least six-weeks following the birth.

Furthermore, in addition to the specific circumstances of pregnant women, it has been found that most people in the US do not consume sufficient amounts of omega-3. “These findings suggest that new screening strategies and prevention practices may be useful,” said Shapiro.

And while there are plenty of commercial omega-3 supplements, don’t forget that these clever little fatty acids are also present in seafood, (especially salmon, anchovies, tuna and sardines) as well as in oils, beans, nuts and seeds, winter squash, broccoli and my personal favorite – cauliflower.

Although Shapiro’s study was preliminary and the further research is needed to clarify the link, new moms could do worse than use salmon to stave off sadness or anchovies as the answer to anxiety!

Nutty about Brain Health?

Last year, we posted news of an epigenetic diet rich in broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, fava beans and kale that claimed to reduce cancer and degenerative brain changes.  Despite its alleged health benefits, the diet has found few followers among your average American carnivore.

And although it’s unlikely that we will ever see nutritionists advocating a hamburger, beer and potato chip diet, maybe more people will be tempted to reduce their risk of Alzheimer’s disease and memory problems by following the dietary advice of a new study published in the May 2, 2012, online issue of Neurology®.

This research showed shows that eating foods such as fish, chicken, salad dressing and nuts, which contain omega-3 fatty acids, is associated with lower blood levels of beta-amyloid, a protein related to Alzheimer’s.

The study followed 1,219 people 65 and older, who were free of dementia. Participants, provided information about their diet for an average of 1.2 years before their blood was tested for beta-amyloid.

The researchers looked specifically at 10 nutrients, including saturated fatty acids, omega-3 and omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids, mono-unsaturated fatty acid, vitamin E, vitamin C, beta-carotene, vitamin B12, folate and vitamin D.

They found that the more omega-3 fatty acids a person ate, the lower their blood beta-amyloid levels. Consuming one gram of omega-3 per day – the equivalent of approximately half a fillet of salmon per week, lowered blood beta-amyloid levels by 20-30%.

“It was a continuous association.  More and more intake of omega-3s was associated with lower and lower levels of beta-amyloid in the blood.  There was no threshold effect,” author Nikolaos Scarmeas, MD, from  Columbia University Medical Center

The association between omega-3 consumption and beta-amyloid was unaffected by whether or not a person took supplements – meaning if two people consumed the same amount of omega-3s, one through food and the other through supplements, the person who consumed more omega-3 rich foods typically had lower blood levels of beta-amyloid.

Other nutrients were not associated with changes in plasma beta-amyloid levels. And results stayed the same after adjusting for age, education, gender, ethnicity, amount of calories consumed and presence of the APOE gene, a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease.

The beneficial impact of omega-3 on brain health would fall in line with past studies of the nutrient.  “Previous studies have suggested that omega-3s and other aspects of diet may be related to brain function,” Scarmeas said. “Here we demonstrate one possible mechanism could be through amyloid, the main biological mechanism that relates to Alzheimer’s disease.”

Scarmeas speculated that omega-3s may be able to reduce oxidative stress on the brain and the resulting vascular damage, or even have some kind of impact on beta-amyloid in the brain.

And although there is not enough data yet to suggest omega 3’s and beta-amyloid are directly related, I, for one, will be ordering the pecan crusted chicken salad for lunch today, dressing on the plate!