Fish Oil: It Conveys Much More Than Cardiovascular Health

woman jogging at sunrise
Numerous studies have evaluated the effects of the omega-3 fatty acids, DHA and EPA, on cardiovascular health. Overwhelmingly, scientists and clinicians involved in such research believe that omega-3 fatty acids play various beneficial roles in preserving optimal vascular and cardiac health: Anti-Inflammatory, Anti-Thrombotic, Anti-Arrhythmic, and TG-Lowering effects are considered to be the most relevant. Recently, Smith et al. published a fascinating and novel clinical trial looking at a non-cardiovascular yet widespread adverse aspect of aging: muscle mass decline. They published their findings in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: Fish oil–derived n–3 PUFA therapy increases muscle mass and function in healthy older adults. All parameters evaluated improved with the administration of 3,200 mg of daily DHA+EPA. Thigh muscle volume, handgrip strength, one-repetition maximum (1-RM) lower- and upper-body strength, and average power during isokinetic leg exercises all demonstrated statistically significant improvement. Improving muscle strength as we age can have far-reaching beneficial consequences that could reduce both morbidity and mortality. Thus, these findings need to be further studied in larger and even more consequential trials. But what additional meaning can we garner from their trial?

I believe that beyond their fascinating and clinically pertinent findings there actually lies a far more evocative message. It is simply that we should be extraordinarily cautious about abandoning the evaluation of therapies (even dietary) when they make biological and physiological sense. Fish oil consumption is woefully low in the US when compared to the far more healthy Japanese population. Our life expectancies are far shorter and various cancers occur more frequently in the US. It is scientifically quite plausible that our deficiency in omega-3 fatty acids plays a significant role in our relatively diminished health. But, after the publication of a few clinical trials failed to demonstrate the cardiovascular benefit of fish and fish oil in select patient populations, some physicians truly abandoned their prior admonitions for patients to augment fish consumption. They were derailed by the controversial results of just a few trials (that many exceptional researchers consider to be flawed in the first place). This type of knee jerk reaction has no place in medicine. It is dangerous and counterproductive. To protect our patients and maintain our scientific integrity, we must always practice with open and attentive minds. Once again I implore my scientific colleagues as well as the oftentimes superficially inquisitive media to follow the science, not the hype.

Learn more about preventive cardiology at www.preventivecardiologyinc.com.

For more information about the supplements and vitamins critical to your everyday health visit www.vitalremedymd.com.

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The 2015 Dietary Guidelines: Defining a Healthful Diet

The 2015 Dietary Guidelines have been released, and some supposedly significant changes, advised. Cholesterol intake is no longer limited. Saturated fat is to represent < 10% of daily caloric intake. Sustainability considerations are now to be considered. Simple sugars are anathema and caffeine is okay. Vegetables and fruits remain highly emphasized. Has much changed? Not really. Most of us in Cardiology and Lipidology dropped the cholesterol ban a decade ago. We typically emphasize fresh fruits and vegetables, low fat meat that is organic and devoid of antibiotics, and a limitation of simple sugar. Most of us don’t consider sustainability issues when advising our individual patients. Many of us believe that world issues – including economics – should stay out of the exam room and remain in the courtroom. (I am a member of that camp). But what is the layperson to do with these Guidelines? Does he or she have to make dramatic changes in his or her diet? The answer of course depends upon the individual patient’s status. Is weight loss necessary; does the patient have cardiovascular disease or very high LDL cholesterol, for instance? Let’s first look at the history of man, briefly examine the state of dietary literature, and then make some generalizations.

Anthropology unequivocally demonstrates that human beings are omnivores. In fact, all of our primate relatives also rely upon meat in the wild. They even need it in captivity. When the Washington DC Zoo attempted to breed the Amazon Golden Marmoset monkey, they failed miserably. It was not until meat was added to their diet that the monkeys begin to thrive and reproduce. Since the beginning of our tour on earth we have also eaten meat. In fact, for the first 4 million years of our existence, meat was our main source of nourishment. About 10,000 years ago we introduced farming and animal husbandry. Most farming was done to feed our animals as they represented our most desirable food source. Recently we have fallen prey to our own impact on nourishment – we have started processing, and ruining, our food. Sugar has been added; nutrients have been stripped from grains; grains are squeezed (instead of eaten whole) to produce oils; and animals have been raised in pens, limiting their ability to develop lean muscle mass, and also often requiring the introduction of antibiotics. We have created a food supply that is most likely killing us.

In response to our understanding of the role cholesterol plays in heart disease – and it does play a significant one – we have introduced guidelines to try to reduce cholesterol. Saturated fat eaten to excess does raise LDL (not a good thing), but cholesterol consumption has little impact on our LDL levels. Therefore the current Guidelines did what was appropriate and removed restrictions on cholesterol consumption while maintaining limitations on saturated fat. They also appropriately implore us to eschew sugar. No one will argue against the latter recommendation (except perhaps the sugar industry). But are there studies to support such advice? Unfortunately, beyond PrediMed (which demonstrated the cardiovascular advantage of a Mediterranean diet) no high level studies have been performed. Many observational studies exist, but doing a solid dietary trial is actually immensely difficult. Thus we are left to rely upon our understanding of basic science, animal experiments, pathophysiology, and anthropology. The conclusion for most of us I believe follows Aristotle’s ancient tenet of moderation. We should consume natural foods whenever possible, avoid processed foods, eat copious quantities of vegetables, consume ample fruit, and don’t worry so much about consuming lean meat, fatty fish, and some chicken as well. We should do this in the context of seeing our physicians, discussing our own personal issues, and modifying our diets to adjust to individual needs when indicated. Eating has become a complex endeavor, yet it ought to be much more straightforward. What we need though is access to the aforementioned natural food, the type of food that has been unscathed by human hands. And therein, unfortunately, lies the rub.

Learn more about preventive cardiology at www.preventivecardiologyinc.com.

For more information more about essential vitamins and supplements visit www.vitalremedymd.com.

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Diet Tip: Please Read the Label

A good deal of my time with patients is spent teaching. I teach about theories regarding plaque formation, consequences of a ruptured plaque – heart attack being the most feared – and the spectrum of cardiac risk factors. In discussing risk factors I then delve deeper. I discuss LDL particles and why counting them is so important. I discuss the role of inflammation in heart disease. We talk about eating a balanced and healthful diet, and of course we always discuss achieving and maintaining an optimal weight.

For the last few years I have been working with a gentleman in his forties who suffers from premature coronary artery disease. He’s already had one stent and our mission is to prevent a second event. And so we have systematically and effectively mitigated each of his risk factors. Except for his weight. As hard as we’ve tried, we have failed. His stubborn 15 to 20 pounds of excess overweight has been a thorn in both of our sides.  He really has tried quite hard. He’s trimmed portions, eliminated all simple carbohydrates, stopped drinking excess alcohol, and religiously exercised an hour a day. Yet, no weight loss… Until his last visit.

The other week my young patient entered the room with draping pants and a flouncy shirt. His clothes were not those of an older, larger brother. They were his. Somehow he had done it. He had lost 19 pounds. And his smile betrayed his brimming desire to let me know his secret.  So here it is. He started reading labels. Though we had previously discussed the importance of label reading, I apparently had failed to adequately emphasize the point. Now here he stood, proving the power of the label. What he had discovered is quite fascinating. My patient, a lover of coffee, had been consuming over 3,600 calories each week in the form of coffee creamers. Although the creamer labels revealed a mere 20 calories per serving, he had failed to recognize just how many servings he used per cup of coffee. It wasn’t until he had counted the bottles of creamer he used on a weekly basis, along with the total number of calories per bottle, did he recognize just how caloric and fattening was his coffee creamer habit. He responded to his newfound knowledge with discipline and resolve, and in three short months without doing anything other than eliminating excess coffee creamer he achieved his desired weight.

The lesson here is simple: Know exactly what you’re consuming. Be careful about portions. And don’t be misled. Do the math if you’re having trouble losing weight. Count the calories you consume and eliminate those you don’t need. This basic approach worked magic for my patient; I’m confident it can do the same for you.

Learn more about preventive cardiology at www.preventivecardiologyinc.com.

For more information more about essential vitamins and supplements visit www.vitalremedymd.com.

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Time for a Food Police Force?

Incessantly the media, scientists, doctors, self-proclaimed experts of this or that pronounce they have found the answer to some burning issue. Mostly the matters involve health. What fat is best, or are carbohydrates better than saturated fats, or is fish oil really any good, or is the rampant use of statins the product of evil pharmaceutical propaganda. The list is interminable. And everyone has a voice. Actors and actresses somehow as a consequence of their on-screen fame have absorbed knowledge beyond that which is possessed by even our greatest scientists. Newscasters weigh in and authors sell their latest tomes with promises of truth. The whole dance of the experts would be quite amusing were it not so dangerous.

What seems to be missing from all those who have managed to communicate so easily with the almighty is a sense of responsibility. When people voice their opinions with such certitude, and their audience believes in their veracity with such solidarity, what is truly opinion then masquerades as fact. As a consequence, fiery battles flare among opposing sides. The vegans pound their fists shouting, “Not even a drop of oil! No fat at all!” The Wheat Belly folk eschew the grains, while the dairy exorcists discard the milk, and the Atkins aficionados chow down on meat and more meat. Get them together on TV and you have a firestorm.

Now bring in the politicians and celebrities. They take whatever “science” they find most convincing and try to turn it into law. No large sodas for the sugar busters; no trans fats for practically everyone (that one I have to admit is compelling), nothing with a face for the vegans. In short order there won’t be much left to eat at all.

I have my own take on the diet issue. In short I’m fairly certain we are all quite different, and consequently do better with different diets. As a generalization though I’d recommend moderation in all things, avoiding processed foods, eating a balanced diet, maintaining an optimal weight, and exercising daily. Perhaps that prescription would make a good law.

Fundamentally it comes down to this. We should all be permitted to eat whatever we wish as long as it doesn’t harm anyone but us. Government should not have the right to tell an individual what he or she can or cannot consume. There is a key caveat though. This holds true, “as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else.” So what do we do about the ailments that occur as a consequence of food-induced obesity – diabetes for one? Do we penalize the consumers of sugar who as a consequence of their dietary predilections become obese and diabetic? Do they pay higher health insurance premiums? Probably not a popular notion. How about the smokers, should everyone foot the bill for his or her heart disease, COPD, and lung cancer treatments? Clearly these issues are slippery slopes, ones upon which I have no desire to tread.

I will emphasize one point however, and of this I am sure. No one knows what diet is best for all mankind. And until such a discovery is made, creating a food police force is probably not a good idea at all.

Learn more about preventive cardiology at www.preventivecardiologyinc.com.

For more information more about essential vitamins and supplements visit www.vitalremedymd.com.

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Butternut Squash Risotto

2 Tablespoons olive oil                      IMG_1167
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 Tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
1 cup pearled barley
32 ounces chicken broth
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 small butternut squash, peeled, cut into 3/4-inch pieces
1 cup frozen petite peas
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

In a large pot, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add chopped onion and cook, stirring frequently, until softened (about 5 minutes). Stir in garlic and thyme and cook stirring for one minute.  Stir in the barley and the broth; season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, lower heat, cover and simmer for 15 minutes.

Stir in squash, cover the pot and cook until tender, about 20 minutes. Stir in peas and 3/4 cup cheese. Garnish with  remaining 1/4 cup cheese. Serves 4.

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Caramelized Brussel Sprouts

brussel sprouts12 ounces Brussels sprouts, halved
Course salt
Ground pepper
2 T Olive oil
1 T fresh lemon juice

In a large skillet, combine sprouts and 1/2 cup water. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Cover; cook, stirring occasionally, until most of the water has evaporated and sprouts are crisp tender, about 5 minutes (add more water if skillet becomes dry before sprouts are done).

Increase heat to medium-high; add olive oil to pan. Continue to cook, uncovered, without stirring, until sprouts are golden brown on underside, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in lemon juice; season with salt and pepper.

Brussels sprouts are delicious, high in fiber and like other vegetables in the cruciferous family, are rich in a wide variety of nutrients and antioxidants. You will know when Brussels sprouts are in season when they are readily available in the market; look for nice green, small-medium sized sprouts. To prepare for cooking, rinse in cold water and remove the ends with a paring knife. For maximum health benefits, do not overcook.

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Look Beyond The Affordable Care Act… It’s Time to Become Proactive About Your Personal Health!

woman runner stretching

Many of us have misgivings about the Affordable Care Act. Although voicing one’s opinion is always a good thing, in this case it should not be a distraction from that which is most important, your own personal health. So, while the politicians continue to battle this out, be sure not to neglect yourself. Instead of ruminating over who’s paying for what, be proactive and do what you can to maximize your health. Here are a few strategies to employ.

First, as hackneyed as this may sound, it is essential to eat a healthful diet and maintain (or achieve and then maintain) an optimal weight. You may believe this to be inconsequential, but having looked at patients’ blood biomarkers for many years I can unequivocally state that losing weight when necessary dramatically improves one’s signs of metabolic disease. In fact, the changes I have seen are nothing short of remarkable. Inflammatory tests, tests demonstrating oxidation of fats, and blood sugar analyses ALL improve with proper eating and appropriate weight.

Then there’s the other commonplace admonition – exercise frequently, optimally on a daily basis. As with diet and weight management, exercise is an essential element in maintaining health and combating disease. Exercise can also take one’s abnormal blood tests and convert them to normal. The good news is that exercise does not demand visits to the gym. Gardening, walking, biking, hiking, and swimming all represent excellent forms of exercise.

Perhaps most important of all is the engagement of patients and their doctors. Patients and doctors need to work in concert in order to achieve the goals we all desire. By examining novel blood tests, appropriately utilizing the best of modern medical technology, and prescribing suitable medications when necessary, your doctor can help you achieve your optimal health. After teaching you the basics of physiology your physician can show you how your body responds to healthful adjustments. You can literally see yourself get healthier over time. From personal experience treating thousands of patients I can assure you that watching your own numbers improve will be incomparably motivating. So speak to your doctor; ask for his or her help; learn as much as you can about your own body; and get healthy in 2014!

Learn more about preventive cardiology at www.preventivecardiologyinc.com.

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Sugar: Our Unrequited Love

It has become common knowledge that sugar is bad for us. Interestingly, human beings require both fat and protein for optimal health and even survival, but we needn’t consume even a grain of sugar to live full and robust lives. Our love of sugar is unrequited; sugar in many ways is our enemy. It is quite probable that you’ve been to your doctor who, in reviewing blood tests, has informed you of your Hemoglobin A1c (HgA1c) level. He or she might have told you that HgA1c is a measure of your blood sugar level over the past three months. I’ve said that on many occasions to my own patients. Recently I recognized a lost opportunity in conveying the aforementioned message. Therefore, I am writing this brief note to clear the air.

Although it’s true that HgA1c tells us whether or not one’s blood sugar has been too high over the previous three months, it actually tells a far more important story. Hemoglobin (the Hg part of HgA1c) is an iron-containing protein. Proteins, and fats, are susceptible to permanent damage by high blood levels of sugar. HgA1c is actually the amount of damaged hemoglobin in our blood. It is not alone however. All proteins and fats can be victims of sugar-induced damage and the process whereby sugars permanently injure proteins and fats is termed glycation. Thus, when one has a high HgA1c he or she should understand that hemoglobin is not the only molecule in the body bearing the brunt of high sugar levels; it’s simply an easy one for us to test. Other fats and proteins such as those in our arteries, brains, nerves, kidneys, and eyes are also being marred by sugar. And when these proteins are hurt, the organs within which they reside are also damaged. Thus we experience heart disease, brain injury, peripheral neuropathies, kidney failure, and even blindness from high sugar levels.

So the message when it comes to elevated HgA1c is not simply, “you have high sugar”, it’s really, “your high sugar levels are taking a terrible toll on the many proteins and fats that support your body’s normal functioning.” So please be mindful when it comes to sugar. Sugar may be sweet, but sugar is not your friend.

Learn more about how the finest quality vitamins, minerals, and omega-3’s, can improve and maintain your health. vitalremedymd.com

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When Passions Collide – Omega-3s Are Essential So Why Would We Remove Them From Our Diets?

Last week the Cleveland HeartLab held its fourth annual Clinical Symposium. Excellent speakers addressed the group of some four hundred physicians and nurse practitioners from across the country. One in particular spoke with passion and unswerving conviction about his brand of a “no heart disease” diet. Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn vociferously and vehemently admonished the audience not to include any oils in their diets. “No oils” he repeatedly shouted pounding his fists in the air. No one can deny he walks his talk; he is extraordinarily svelte, clearly carrying no superfluous fat on his own body. My talk was about the essential role omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids play in health and disease. And I too have my convictions and passions. And so we collided.

I steadfastly adhere to a worldview incorporating moderation, scientifically rigorous reflection on every aspect of human beings (from our evolutionary roots to the most reductionist biologic understanding), and acknowledgement that we do not and likely will never know everything. My position does not make room for Dr. Esselstyn’s view. His is simply too extreme. It also fails to consider the fact that human beings cannot adequately produce some vital fats such as EPA and DHA; those afforded us by our friends, the fish. EPA and DHA are indisputably essential contributors to the entire gamut of health considerations. From skin to eyes to brains and hearts, our organs need these fats to thrive. In fact, every cell in the human body requires DHA for optimal function. And even more compelling is the fact that we cannot adequately manufacture this fat. We need to eat it. So why eschew it? That is the problem with his thesis. Even if his handful of subjects adhering to this diet fails to develop cardiovascular events, it does not prove that the lack of fat plays any role. There are just too many other variables left unconsidered. Additionally, what diseases might be borne of such an unnaturally restricted diet? Too many questions remain for us to make a global experiment of Dr. Esselystyn’s hypothesis. We’ve done this before with dietary advice and hormone replacement recommendations and sadly we’ve been wrong every time.

In sum, I genuinely applaud Dr. Esselstyn for his dedication to extinguishing heart disease. His passion is real and his motivation pure. Still, that does not mean I must agree with him.

Get more information on the world’s most potent omega-3 fish oil supplement at vitalremedymd.com

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