What are the signs and symptoms of essential fatty acid deficiency?
Essential fatty acid deficiency or imbalance can express itself in a number of ways:
- Allergic or ‘atopic’ tendencies (such as eczema, asthma)
- Fatigue and lack of stamina
- Dry skin, cracked nails, dry hair, ‘bumpy’ skin, dandruff
- Dry mucous membranes (eyes, mouth, vagina)
- Indigestion; Constipation
- Weak immunity & inflammatory problems
- Emotional sensitivity (such as depression, excessive mood swings)
- Attentional problems (distractibility, poor concentration and difficulties in working memory) early learning or behavioural problems,
- Chronic arthritis, stiff joints
- Cardiovascular disease; high triglycerides; type 2 diabetes
- Hormonal problems (PMT, breast tenderness, menopause)
Experiencing several of these symptoms is a strong indicator of EFA deficiency or imbalance.
Essential fatty acids are VITAL for health. These fats and in particular the longer chain fatty acids derived from these fats are essential for the structure and many of the capabilities of the cells and tissues throughout our bodies. Most of us will not get enough of these fats (i.e. in the right condition) in our diet without positive action. To maximise their value other factors must be managed, including:-
- The amount and ratio of the two principal fatty acids consumed
- The amount of ‘derivative’ fatty acids consumed
- Minimising consumption of refined carbohydrates
- Enzymes obtained from raw foods
- Additional nutrients from food or supplements
- The condition of the liver
Essential fatty acids, or EFAs, are fatty acids, as oils, that humans (and other animals) must ingest because the body requires them for good health but cannot synthesize them. Only two EFAs (parental oils) are known for humans: alpha-linolenic acid (an omega-3 fatty acid) and linoleic acid (an omega-6 fatty acid). Other fatty acids often consumed are only "conditionally essential", most of which are derived from the basic EFAs. The EFAs are polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), often found in seed oils, in contrast with saturated fats that we commonly associate with body fats in animals. In essence, the human body needs these parental oils for normal growth and biological construction-just as the seeds need them for stimulating new plant growth. We require other fatty acids for fuel and often to overcome deficiencies in our diet.
If we get imbalance in the parent oils we consume, or have deficiencies, or damage these oils in our food preparation then we have a higher risk for ill health or degenerative disease. Deficiencies in EFAs in prenatal women’s diet can have a significant impact on their baby’s health. It is often conjectured that the changes in food industrialisation and farming practices have changed the balance and quality of EFAs in our diet and have been instrumental for the major increases in degenerative diseases as seen throughout the twentieth century. These changes in EFAs, and the consequent health issues, have been compounded with the increase use of refined carbohydrates (particularly sugars). Together they change the nature of the lipids in blood metabolism. Humans are believed to have made a major evolutionary (and genetic) leap forward when oily fish was being used regularly in their diet. These fishes are rich in fatty acids and the derivative fatty acids- particularly those omega 3 fatty acids known as EPA and DHA. It is difficult to get these extra derivatives from a vegetarian based diet.
What do EFAs do?
Under the right conditions, EFAs and their derivatives provide flexible, protective membranes to our cells, they prevent deterioration in our blood vessels and they provide molecular materials to repair damage from infection or inflammation. They have a profound influence on how we use energy and how we age. They affect muscle, nerve, immune and metabolic functions.
In general only about 5% of any parental oils will be transformed into longer chain derivatives (PUFAs), the rest will be used for energy or fat storage. Using oils that contain higher contents of the derivative fatty acids, eg fish oils, can increase significantly the amount of these molecular components in the blood stream, the brain and some organs. However, many more is not always better! Many reports indicate that an high additions of EPA or DHA may affect or distort levels of other derivatives that are vital to our health. A careful balance is required.
The composition of fatty acids in different tissues will determine the response to immune macrophages or other disease agents. The fatty acids release eicosanoids which regulate inflammatory and also anti-inflammatory prostaglandins. Extra PUFAs may reduce inflammation or may reduce the effects of inflammation. Other biomarkers of excessive inflammation, eg CRProtein, are not likely to be reduced by extra PUFAs. Excessive fatty acids or PUFAs may increase adverse immune actions. Adverse reactions are more likely when there is also a high amount of sugars or starches or damaged fats in the diet.
Omega 7, which is not an essential fatty acid but is produced from other fatty acids and found in the diet from fish and dairy, does reduce CRProtein (and thereby inflammation) and is also considered protective to the cardiovascular system because it reduces triglycerides. Oily fish’s health benefit has been attributed to the combination of EFA derivatives (EPA &DHA) and omega 7. Omega 7 reduces dryness in mucous membranes and found to be useful for protecting gastrointestinal tissues, reducing dry eyes and lubricating vaginal dryness. Some studies show supplements that it assists in weight management and may reduce insulin resistance for type 2 diabetics. Whilst it helps to relieve some skin problems, too much omega 7 can cause a bad body odour.
Despite the public health messages given, low fat diets are not a sensible solution to common health issues of weight management or disease. Conclusively, diets with saturated fat content do not present poor health providing they contain sufficient parent EFAs and there are not excesses of refined (simple) carbohydrates. Most research indicates that a ratio of between 1:1 and 1:3 of omega 3 to omega 6 parent oils would provide a healthy foundation in our diet. However, the average modern western diet has a high content of omega 6 oils and often these oils are oxidised or altered before consumption. Adding extra oils to enhance our health prospects depends on our age, our diet and any existing health problems.
For an adult: In general, a daily amount of about 5-10grammes of parental oils is advised. In most circumstances a level of about 0.75 to 1.5grammes per day of EPA +DHA is considered sufficient. (NB these are based on average western diets).
In raw food sources these EFAs and the derivatives are found alongside antioxidants that protect these fats from being damaged in their structure. Saturated fats cannot be oxidised and present a good source of fuel. In meats, EFAs may found together with other fats that can be oxidised. Fats from common vegetable oils eg olive oil can be oxidised- to unhealthy oils- from cooking at high temperatures. These vegetable oils can have saturated fats, mono-saturated fats and PUFAs. Coconut oil is the best oil for frying as its structure is not damaged or oxidised. Adding extra antioxidants to our diet that contain oils may prevent some damage to oils or lipids by peroxidation in our bodies. However, there is not clear evidence for the best selection of antioxidants except to use several that have fat and water soluble properties as the better antioxidant processes seem to work as a ‘team’ not just one antioxidant alone.
The derivative long chain fatty acids needed by the human body include AA (arachidonic acid), GLA( gamma linoleic acid), EPA and DHA. AA is formed from Linoleic acid (LA) and significantly it is not found as a derivative in food sources. EPA and DHA are found in fish mainly or otherwise derived from alpha linolenic acid (ALA). GLA is found in some seed oils. In the body, we need enzymes to convert the parent EFAs to the derivative fatty acids. Any shortage of enzymes can affect the proportion of these derivative fats or the lipids that circulate in the blood stream. The amount of each fatty acid varies according the organ or tissue in the body. AA is the most common fatty acid. There are virtually no omega 3 type fatty acids in the skin or blood vessels but the brain contains the highest amount of DHA. Generally only a small fraction of EFAs are converted to the longer chain fats- most EFAs are converted to triglycerides as with other fats. By consuming additional amounts of the derived –say as supplements fatty acids, it is possible to compensate for some deficiencies or to alter the body’s reaction to immune or inflammatory problems.
It is clear that extra reasonable levels of oily fish, and possibly fish oil supplements, will benefit the unborn infants, the mental development of children, and an accurate memory in adults and reduce the onset of dementia at later age. For a vegan, there are algae based supplements that have higher values of EPA and DHA. There are dysfunctions and mood disorders where it has been shown that some PUFAs are deficient. Supplements can be valuable for mediating some health problems eg EPA for depression or GLA for eczema.
It is also necessary to have adequate amounts of parental oils and preferably raw vegetables in order to ensure good sources of enzymes and other vital nutrients. As well as enzymes, as required for converting EFAs to derivatives, the other nutrients that seem to relevant to maximising EFA conversion are Vitamin D, Iodine, Selenium, Zinc and B vitamins. These are found in oily fish.
Cholesterol and cardiovascular risks:
There is much information proclaimed about cholesterol and the levels that are valuable in our body of this hormone which is carried inside particles of phospholipids and triglycerides in the blood stream. Much of this information seems misleading. It has been shown that the level of total cholesterol is not a good indicator of health risk. Having a higher quantity of smaller ‘cholesterol’ particles in the fractions LDL (lower density lipids) and VLDL (very low LDL) does seem a significant factor for atherosclerosis or cardiovascular risk –as the occurrence and fragility of vascular blockages is greater. Apparently the smaller the lipid particle in each fraction then the higher chance of its peroxidation. For a higher content of triglycerides then there is a greater likelihood of smaller particles. Higher levels of triglycerides can occur with more refined carbohydrates consumed in our diet. The use of ‘damaged’ or adulterated fats (eg transfats) make these cholesterol particles more liable to collect in vascular lesions or blockages. As most cholesterol is formed in the liver then the condition of the liver is also very significant to this cardiovascular risk. It has to be remembered that cholesterol itself is valuable to our health in many ways and the most important act is to prevent it from being damaged.
The way fructose is converted in the body makes it more liable to produce free radicals and lipid peroxides than for glucose. High levels of either of these sugars increase the glycation effects for diabetics and consequently increasing the risks for vascular damage. A low glycaemic load would be a possible effective diet for type 2 diabetics or those with a similar risk.
Immune system and EFAs
Correct balances of EFAs and moderate quantities of extra derivatives, ensure that the cells have a better level of protection, are less rigid (&better moisturised) and are less prone to inflammation. The evidence is that they do not prevent nor reverse auto-immune diseases but mediate the effects on different tissues. As an inexact guideline, omega-3 fatty acids may tend to suppress leukocytes that activate an inflammatory response but may also tend to increase the risks of bleeding. For auto-immune problems that present inflammation, more omega 3 fatty acids may be useful both as a proportion of parental oils and as extra EPA/DHA from fish or supplements.
For individuals who are sensitive to aspirin, the outcome from inflammation, say from a respiratory infection, is to increase mucus and enhance other inflammatory reactions. It is possible that an excess of omega 6 EFAs in the diet increases a release of inflammatory metabolites from free AA in the tissues. Where the inflammation causes redness and slow healing then an excess of omega 3 EFAs or derivatives may be relevant. Note: Steroids which suppress inflammation and excess mucus but will also lead, in prolonged circumstances, to thinner skin tissues and more capillary damage.
The extra inflammatory reactions for aspirin intolerant individuals illustrates that a food intolerance can increase the inflammatory prostaglandins that may arise from fatty acids such as AA, and hence to achieve the optimum health with EFAs, food intolerances should be identified and minimised.
All: Reduce refined carbohydrates &fruit sugars, especially fructose, to less than 50g/day and consume 10g/day of a mixed parental oil of preferably 1:2 (omeg-3:omega-6)
Pre- & post-natal mothers: extra oily fish or ‘fish oils’ to enhance DHA in infants
Healthy adults: 10g/day of parental oils plus 1g/day of EPA/DHA
Senior Adults: Oily fish plus extra DHA
Skin sensitivity: Extra GLA plus extra parental oils. Consider Omega 7
Type 2 diabetics: Reduce any fish oil supplements but increase parental oils
Adult depression: 1 g/day of an EPA supplement plus check Vitamin D levels
Auto-immune: Additional parental oils plus 1 to 1.5g/day EPA/DHA & plenty of raw vegetable juices. Check food intolerances.
Vegans & vegetarians: Algae based EFA derivatives are available instead of fish oils.
NOTE: Possibly the best way to consume fatty acids is combine with MCT oils (medium chain tryglycerides) and with high quality undenatured whey powder or with low fat cottage cheese. Ensure any parental oils are cold pressed organic virgin and any supplementary fish oils are from preferably south atlantic or artic fish stock.
Our heart and cardiovascular system is subject to the degenerative problems that beset health and longevity in the industrialised western countries and which have increased significantly throughout the 20th century. Heart failure is responsible for at least 40% of deaths. Those races renown for longevity do not suffer the same problems and retain robust cardiovascular health and energy. Pharmaceutical and medical intervention may limit health issues but they do not generally prevent degeneration nor restore full health. The heart, associated blood vessels and connective tissues require high levels of nutrients to prevent and offset challenges to their tissue’s integrity, to their immunity from disease or toxins and to premature ageing. Self-help may be appropriate but precaution is needed when under medical supervision for a identified problem or taking related medication.
Prevent and reduce atherosclerosis by the right diet that limits levels of triglycerides and oxidation of cholesterol. Keep sugar (and starch) intake low especially in the presence of fatty acids.
Include in the diet and through supplementation, high levels of anti-oxidants and bioflavonoids to minimise damage to blood vessels and thereby retard ageing factors
Add nutrients to offset key shortages in our diet and reduce damage from environmental & lifestyle factors
If we encounter cardiovascular problems then consider nutritional programmes that can improve oxygenation, blood flow and reduce adverse metabolic effects.
Specific supplementary nutrients can enhance physical and bio-chemical properties and improve longevity
Heart and cardiovascular system problems are intertwined. A problem with blood flow through arteries can ultimately affect heart tissues and heart operation. Atherosclerosis relates to degeneration in the condition of the major blood vessels and potentially damaging blood clots that may arise. Diets and nutrients can have major effects on the emergence and development of this condition. Some information is provided below on natural remedies and nutrition for common conditions or heart related issues. The role of natural remedies in these conditions is (a) to help prevent these conditions developing or worsening and (b) to enhance and support conventional treatment with the supervision of your medical advisors. Any disease that adversely affects the heart and disrupts circulation can lead to heart failure; the single most common cause of which is coronary artery disease which limits blood flow to the heart muscle and can lead to a heart attack.
Usually the earliest signs of cardiovascular problems are hypertension, or arrhythmias, angina or even fatigue. Cholesterol assessments are not accurate indicators of heart or stroke risks. Homocysteine or Lipoprotein(a) blood evaluations are stronger indicators. There is good evidence to show that oxidized cholesterol and high triglycerides will cause more risks of atherosclerosis. Clearly diabetics, or those with other blood quality problems, are at greater risk to ageing, injury or hardening of blood vessels. Generally, to take measures that improve blood sugar control and improve the quality of blood lipids (essential fatty acids) can improve most aspects of cardiovascular risks. High blood sugars from food intake along with poor quality fats will increase blood triglycerides and thereby lead to more oxidized cholesterol and consequently more build-up of plaques in the blood vessels. As a human race we were evolved to store more body fat (for winter month’s energy) during the seasons when high levels of both sugar(fruits) and fats were available… but not the whole year round as is the case with refined, adulterated and high starch laden modern diets.
There is good evidence to indicate that selective diets can reduce these risks. Paleo diets, low calorie/low carbohydrate(low GL) diets, 5:2 diets and balance vegetarian diets can all improve health parameters- provided that sufficient protein and sufficient essential fatty acids are included. Those with digestion issues or food intolerance problems need to address those factors as well. A good proportion of raw food (preferably organic) with its higher enzyme and antioxidant content will be important for heart health.
Processing of food by cooking, or other treatments, can reduce food micronutrient status and increase some toxins. Supplementation is often vital to make-up for inadequate food chain quality and to offset environmental/lifestyle factors, as well as trying to repair conditions. Historically, diets containing transfats, high sugar levels, high sodium content, and inadequate levels and balance of essential fatty acids have been responsible for poor heart health. Local or geographic factors also contribute because of low mineral and vitamin D contents.
Atherosclerosis is a disease that involves the development of cholesterol-filled plaques, called atheromas, in the walls of the blood vessels, causing the vessels to lose their elasticity and become sclerotic, or hardened. These atheromas are especially problematic when they develop in the blood vessels of the heart, also known as the coronary arteries, where they may decrease the amount of blood that is available to feed the heart muscle, or where they may eventually lead to heart attack, also called myocardial infarction (MI), i.e. heart damage
The status of our cardiovascular health is regulated by endothelium covering the innermost lining (monolayer) of the entire vascular system. The endothelial cells control the elasticity - relaxation and tightening - of blood vessels. Atherosclerosis usually relates to an injury to the arterial endothelium. Then sticking together platelets begin to secrete a growth factor that stimulates the outgrowth of underlying endothelial cells which start to protrude into the arterial walls.
As the process continues, the atheroma, which grows larger and larger, is now comprised of enlarged macrophages and monocytes filled with oxidized cholesterol, dividing smooth muscle cells, and collagen, as well as the initial endothelial cells. Fatty plaques, called atheromas keep on enlarging and tend to cover mainly the aorta and the coronary arteries serving the heart. Far worse, plaques can become unstable or vulnerable, triggering a sudden blood clot in the artery. The plaques which in advanced situations can become calcified and, consequently making the
atheroma sclerotic or hardened, and inflexible leading to the arterial blockage.
When cholesterol becomes oxidized, either by heat or free radicals before it is absorbed in the intestines, or by free radicals found in the body, it can become dangerous. Oxidized LDL cholesterol is directly toxic to endothelial cells. It increases the adhesion of monocytes and macrophages to vascular lesions, increases the proliferation of smooth muscle cells, increases platelet clumping and thrombus formation, and inhibits the production of nitric oxide, a messenger chemical needed for vasodilation.
Progressive Homeostatic Process Atherosclerotic plaque formation then is an overly progressive homeostatic process in effort to correct and balance the condition triggered by the injury of the arterial endothelium leading to its subsequent dysfunction.
As this process occurs as long as there is a presence of platelet accumulation function, the main goal of all treatments of atherosclerosis should be to:
protect the arterial walls against free-radical attack;
prevent the endothelial injury leading to an abnormal blood platelet accumulation leading to formation of plaques.
And this is the total opposite to standard medical methods of treating atherosclerosis that focus:
on reducing the effects of the plaque after it has built up --
not on eliminating the factors which created the build-up in the first place.
Impacts of atherosclerosis
A large atheroma in the coronary vessels may start to block blood flow to the heart, leading to symptoms like shortness of breath or angina. Atheromas in the blood vessels leading to the brain may cause dizziness or lightheadedness.
Where the atheroma breaks slightly it can cause a release of blood into the surrounding tissue. In order to stop this blood loss, platelets clump together forming a blood clot, called a thrombus. A thrombus may also be caused by platelets that simply start to stick to the atheroma and then build up. Typically, the blockage of a vessel by a thrombus also involves spasm of the artery, further decreasing the blood flow. When this occurs in the blood vessels in the head, it is called a stroke
Many myocardial infarctions are mild and may even go unnoticed. In others, it can lead to ventricular fibrillation, a rapid and chaotic "fluttering" action of the heart muscle. This condition is called a cardiac arrest.
Causes of cardiovascular damage
Elevated blood levels of homocysteine and also Lipoprotein(a) are seen in patients with vascular disease and are associated with an increased risk of stroke, coronary artery disease, and peripheral vascular disease.
Our cardiovascular system is highly susceptible to damage caused by free radicals - harmful, oxidative agents that initiate the endothelial dysfunction leading to endothelial injury and, subsequently, to arterial plaque formation.
Free (unbound) radicals, also called reactive oxygen species (ROS), are highly chemically reactive towards other substances, or even towards themselves. An over-abundance of these highly unstable molecular fragments - both of internal and external origin is known to cause oxidative stress and cell damage, and
implicated in the progression of many degenerative diseases, one of them being atherosclerosis.(Free radicals, however, do play an important role in a number of biological processes and many of them are necessary for an effective immune system).
The two most important oxygen-centred free radicals are superoxide and hydroxyl radical. They derive from molecular oxygen under reducing conditions. However, because of their reactivity, these same free radicals can participate in unwanted side reactions resulting in cell damage. Excessive amounts of these free radicals can lead to cell injury and death, which may contribute to many diseases such as stroke and myocardial infarction (heart attack).
Over the years, our exposure to free radicals in the everyday life has been steadily increasing. Their production has become excessive and uncontrolled, resulting in the reduced ability of our immune system to protect us from their damage. To prevent further damage, the body has a number of mechanisms, such as the enzymes superoxide dismutase, catalase, glutathione peroxidase and glutathione reductase used to
- minimize free-radical-induced damage and
- repair damage that occurs.
It has been documented that ambient air pollution exposure is an environmental risk factor correlating with increased incidence total mortality from cardiovascular events, such as coronary stroke and ischemic stroke. More free radicals heighten the inflammatory processes in the cells by attacking:
- cellular membranes and tissues in the body,
- our genetic material (mainly DNA),
- proteins and enzymes, and
- polyunsaturated fatty acids.
Hypertension, or high blood pressure, affects as much as 1/3 of the population of industrialized nations and has been shown to greatly contribute to the formation and progression of heart disease. Patients who are able to decrease their blood pressure to normal levels, especially without the use of medications, are at much lower risk of a fatal event.
Both elevated blood sugar and elevated insulin can be damaging to the linings of blood vessels, so people with insulin resistance are at much higher risk of developing atherosclerosis. Diabetics are prone to damage of their blood vessels from glycation and oxidation of proteins and lipids, (the advanced glycation end products (AGEs)).The presence of higher levels of glucose in the blood stream is considered to be the cause of higher levels of AGEs. Usage of nutrients to improve insulin response can reduce this effect.
Nutritional support for heart health
According orthomolecular nutrition, if the right building blocks (nutrients) are present in the body in the right amounts and at the right time the body will:
- protect the arteries against free radical damage (antioxidant properties),
- improving endothelium recovery from injury, healing it and the underlying smooth-muscle cells,
- reduce the blood platelet aggregation & inflammation
- keep the blood slippery enough to have it flowing more freely and being less likely to form blood clots, causing a heart attack or stroke.
improve fibrinolysis: the reduction of fibrins within a plaque
Omega-3s lower blood fats and inflammation, and omega-3s and vitamin K2 protect from heart disease. that The protective benefits of omega-3 fish oil in multiple aspects of preventive cardiology have been demonstrated. High blood fat (triglyceride) levels have been shown to increase inflammation, raising the chances of heart disease. Signs of acute inflammation included no. of white blood cells(neutrophils), C-reactive protein and interleukin and all were decreased. Vitamin K2 protects the heart and vascular system. Studies showed that the chances of coronary heart disease decreased 9 percent for every 10 mcg of vitamin K2 in the diet.
Elevated Homocysteine has been shown to make the endothelium more prone to the development of blood clots. Apart from genetic factors, other causes of elevated homocysteine levels include chronic kidney failure, certain medications or other medical conditions. Homocysteine has been shown to cause damage to the endothelium, increased division and proliferation of smooth muscle cells, and increased oxidation of LDL cholesterol and other lipids. By increasing levels of free radicals, which damage endothelial cells, homocysteine can lead to reduced production by these endothelial cells of nitric oxide (NO), a chemical messenger necessary for the normal dilation of blood vessels. Certain vitamins, including vitamin B12, vitamin B6, and folic acid can lower Homocysteine.
Nutrients that decrease the formation and progression of atheromas include:
- Nutrients that help decrease triglycerides
- Nutrients that decrease the oxidation of existing LDL cholesterol,.
- Nutrients that decrease the risk of damage to the blood vessel wall, both before atheromas begin and after
When present in the diet in sufficient amounts, phytosterols have been shown to lower blood levels of cholesterol, enhance the immune response and decrease risk of certain cancers.
The rich mixture of phytonutrients found in grapes—is thought to be responsible for numerous beneficial effects seen on cholesterol metabolism, oxidative stress (free radical activity) and inflammation.
Recent research has confirmed that soy protein does lower heart disease risk by increasing the size of LDL cholesterol particles. Small dense LDL is the most dangerous form of cholesterol, while large LDL, especially when accompanied by adequate supplies of HDL (a ratio of 4 LDL:1 HDL is considered ideal) is considered much less risky. High triglycerides also have the effect of reducing LDL and HDL particle size.
Vitamin E, the primary fat-soluble antioxidant in the body, is the antioxidant found in highest quantities in LDL cholesterol particles, which it protects from oxidation. Studies have shown that people with lower vitamin E levels tend to have a higher rate of ischemic heart disease mortality and vice versa. The use of vitamin E in large amounts have been associated with a possible increase in oxidation. In order to prevent oxidation of fats, the vitamin E itself must become oxidized. Vitamin C additions are very effective at restoring oxidized vitamin E back to its non-oxidized, antioxidant form. This process is enhanced with co-enzyme Q10.
Bioflavonoids, which are chemical substances classified as pigments, help provide fruits and vegetables has been associated with a significant decrease in risk of cardiovascular disease mortality.
Niacin (vitamin B3) helps to increase the breakdown of cholesterol to bile, decreases the proliferation of smooth muscle cells, helps to prevent LDL oxidation, reduces platelet clumping, lowers lipoprotein a levels, and can increase HDL, or good cholesterol, levels by as much as 15-40%.
Vitamin D has emerged as one of the key nutrient. vitamin D can lower inflammation by increasing levels of anti-inflammatory messengers like the cytokine named IL-10 (interleukin 10). Research has also shown that vitamin D can lower blood pressure, probably by inhibiting a regulatory system called the renin-angiotensin system (i.e. ensuring the kidney’s control over blood pressure). Low Vitamin D also impacts adversely on blood sugar control, immune response, cholesterol condition and stress factors.
Omega-3 fatty acids, a type of fat essential for normal body function, are used to make cell membranes throughout the body and immune system-related chemicals that help regulate inflammation. Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to decrease the proliferation of smooth muscle cells, decrease the movement of macrophages into the vessel wall, increase the removal of LDL cholesterol (& triglycerides) from the bloodstream, decrease platelet aggregation and thrombus formation following endothelial injury, increase vasodilation by enhancing the effects of NO, and increase thrombus (blood clot) breakdown.
Studies have shown that LDL cholesterol particles that contain monounsaturated fats, such as from olive oil, are much more resistant to oxidation that those that contain high levels of polyunsaturated fats. The abundant polyphenols in extra virgin olive oil have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and anticoagulant actions. Its phenolic content can also provide benefits for plasma lipid levels and oxidative damage.
When subjects in a study ate a breakfast containing virgin olive oil with its normal high phenolic content (400 ppm), their endothelial function actually improved, blood levels of nitric oxide (a blood vessel-relaxing compound produced by the endothelium) increased significantly, and far fewer free radicals were present than would normally be seen after a meal.
By decreasing the attraction of immune system cells, omega-3 fats can also prevent the high levels of free radicals. Triglycerides are important for good health because they serve as a major source of energy. High levels of triglycerides, however, are associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. In addition, high triglycerides are often found along with a group of other disease risk factors that has been labeled metabolic syndrome.
Zinc is needed for the proper function of endothelial cells and helps to prevent the endothelial damage caused by oxidized LDL cholesterol and other oxidized fats Zinc has been shown to prevent some of the damage to heart muscle cells after a myocardial infarction by decreasing the free radicals
Magnesium, which is a cofactor in more than 300 enzymatic reactions in the body, is a mineral essential for normal cell metabolism and function. Low dietary levels of magnesium are associated with increased rates of hypertension, heart arrhythmias, ischemic heart disease, and sudden cardiac death. Low levels of magnesium have been found in the hearts and blood vessels of patients with angina, coronary artery disease, and also in patients who have died of ischemic heart disease related sudden death.
Low magnesium levels are related to decreased function of endothelial cells including increased susceptibility to damage and lesion formation; increased calcification of atheromas; decreased collagen breakdown, leading to increased collagen build up in atheromas; elevated lipoprotein levels; decreased normal cellular uptake and use of cholesterol; increased cholesterol build up in blood vessel walls; and increased platelet clumping and clot formation. In addition, magnesium decreases vessel spasm and increases vasodilation. Increasing dietary magnesium intake may decrease the progression of atherosclerosis.
Higher blood levels of potassium have been shown to decrease the amount of free radicals produced by damaged endothelial cells and activated monocytes and macrophages. Higher levels have also been shown to decrease the proliferation of smooth muscle cells and to decrease platelet clumping and thrombus formation.
As with potassium, magnesium levels tend to be lower when the diet is high in sodium. Red blood cell levels of magnesium are strongly related to diastolic blood pressure. Hypertension also tends to lower phosphate levels, which then can make the hypertension worse. Increasing magnesium intake has been shown to restore phosphate levels to normal.
Folate is needed for the conversion of homocysteine back into methionine. The absorption of vitamin B12 requires a certain substance called intrinsic factor that is produced by the stomach. Elderly persons and persons with stomach or digestive problems are especially prone to vitamin B12 (& folate) deficiency as they may not be producing enough intrinsic factor to absorb the vitamin B12 they take in. The effect of vitamin B12 on elevated homocysteine levels is most pronounced when the elevated levels are due in part to low vitamin B12 levels.
Co-enzyme Q10 is a vital nutrient for cellular energy and thereby muscular strength. As we age the levels of Co-enzyme Q10 naturally reduce and if these levels become too low from effects of illness, stress or medication (e.g. statins) then significant muscular weaknesses can arise. The heart functioning can be affected. Improved recovery after heart failure has been found using high levels of Co-enzyme Q10 and Selenium. The medication of statins can reduce both of these nutrients. Lower Selenium levels will affect anti-oxidant and thereby immune condition.
Supplementation of the diet with taurine in one study showed a decrease in both systolic and diastolic pressure.
Studies have shown a correlation between higher levels of iron stores and an increased rate of cardiovascular mortality. Some studies have shown that regular blood donation may decrease the risk of myocardial infarction by as much as 86% in men. It is believed that initial injury to the endothelial wall causes iron to be released from iron stores. Once released, this iron becomes highly reactive and is able to cause the oxidation of LDL cholesterol. The relationship between dietary iron intake and cardiovascular risk does not appear to apply to non-haeme iron, which is the type found in certain vegetables. Elevated iron store levels can be decreased through blood donation as well as exercise, which can reduce iron stores through sweating, increased muscle mass, and red blood cell metabolism.
Antioxidants play a key role in the defence mechanisms against free radical damage, especially vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E and polyphenol antioxidants (POH) found in virtually all plants. Antioxidants are known for their ability to scavenge (deactivate) free radicals and up-regulate certain metal chelation reactions in order to maintain healthy metabolic function. There is good evidence bilirubin and uric acid can act as antioxidants to help neutralize certain free radicals. Antioxidants are essential for life as our protectors against free radical damage. Because of a close relation between free radical activity and protective function of antioxidants, it is said that atherosclerosis can be:
- caused by the absence or deficiency of antioxidants in the body,
- prevented by their regular presence in sufficient amounts, and
- reversed by their optimal or optimized supply through specific dietary supplementation.
Existing research indicates that if enough antioxidant protection is available, the oxidation of cholesterol from free radicals can be prevented The increased risk of free radical-induced endothelial (arterial) injury can be strongly correlated with low overall nutritional status of the body.
Reducing the potential damage to the endothelium by ‘AGEs’, as experienced by diabetics, can prevent less chance of subsequent arterial blockages. Better sugar control by adopting a low GL(Glycemic Load) diet and improving insulin response can be important. Supplements of chromium may help type 2 diabetics. Chromoprecise is recognised as a chromium supplement with very high bioavailability and prevents insulin resistance. This supplement could reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and also reducing the AGE damaging of the endothelium for non-diabetics.
There is some evidence of supplements that can improve blood flow when the vascular system has problems. PADMA is a herbal complex approved for intermittent claudication and to improve conditions like Raynaud’s syndrome. The herb Ginkgo Biloba can improve flow through all blood vessels. Serrapeptase and Nattokinase contain enzymes that have anti-inflammatory properties for blood platelets and help maintain good circulation. The herb hawthorn has been used to improve blood flow through heart muscles and thereby improve blood pressure. The amino acid L-arginine and the supplement Pycnogenol ( source of anthrocyanins) increase nitric oxide which assists blood pressure, and thereby circulation, from enabling the blood vessels to relax.
There is some evidence that the amino acid L-Lysine along with Vitamin C can improve fibrinolysis and reduce arterial blockage. L-Lysine is a precursor to L-carnitine and vitamin C helps this metabolic change.
Definitely, when it comes to atherosclerosis, foods have a direct impact on the quality of our blood vessels. We all know perfectly well that what we eat does affect the blood lipids. After consuming the Mediterranean-like meal rich in vegetables and olive oil, a significant increase was seen in the activity of serum paraxonase (PON 1), an enzyme transported on HDL in the blood. PON1 protects cholesterol from oxidation and inhibits macrophage foam cell formation. Even small doses of omega-3 fatty acids from fish or parental seed oils may be very protective. The risk for ischemic stroke was dropped 31% in those eating fish just 1-3 times a month. Fruits, vegetables and fish offer significant protection against stroke. The exposure to higher temperatures of vegetable oils (i.e. above 120 oC) will lead to oxidation and adverse chemical changes.
Historically, saturated fats were considered adverse for heart health but large population studies have dismissed this linkage. Polyunsaturated and mono-unsaturated fats have proven health benefits and in general the combination of both saturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids should be included in our diet. There is significant concerns for heart and immune health with red meats that have been treated or those fried.
If you've never considered yourself as having low thyroid but just don't feel 100%, consider these simple questions:
- Have you gained weight even while keeping to a diet?
- Do you feel tired all the time?
- Do you usually feel cold
- Are you irritable or impatient?
- Are your hands and feet usually cold?
- Do you often have aching muscles or migraines?
- Is your hair and skin coarse, dry, and lifeless?
- Do you have loss of libido, drive or depression?
- Do you have insomnia?
- Do you have a slow heartbeat?
- Are you listless, forgetful and anti-social?
If some of these questions fit, you may need to give your thyroid health more consideration. Sadly, aspects of thyroid function are too often ignored by conventional medical practice, or assume that synthetic levothyroxine is sufficient redress. Even people with an apparent "normal" thyroid test result can still have a slow thyroid.
You need two critical nutrients to fuel your thyroid and get your energy levels, weight, focus, and life back on track again. You need iodine and L-tyrosine. To optimise its function you may also need additional Selenium, vitamin E and vitamin D. The secondary impacts of a prolonged low thyroid on the adrenal system, and in consequence being low in the cellular nutrient Co-enzyme Q10, will cause more fatigue and loss of concentration(‘brain fog’). A deficiency in Vitamin A and in association with Zinc can also affect thyroid function. Together the natural substances of iodine and L-tyrosine keep your thyroid strong so it can do the job it is intended to, namely:
Keep your weight low and your metabolism high
Stop migraine headaches
Boost energy and libido
Stop depression and listlessness
Clear out "brain fog"
Why Are There So Many Problems With The Thyroid?
There are a few reasons for thyroid problems becoming so prominent - certainly diet and lifestyle play a part, but the major reasons are
The disappearance of iodine in our diets
Lack of use of iodine in common medical practice.
Higher exposure to antagonists of iodine, namely fluorine, chlorine and bromine
Iodine was essentially a common medicine used by physicians. It was effective for many health issues; healing wounds, destroying bacteria, stopping viruses, and possibly even a factor in preventing cancer.
One of its chief functions of the thyroid is producing thyroxine (T4), and converting this hormone into triiodothyronine (T3), the active hormone needed for metabolism. When your body produces too little thyroxine, the normal metabolic and chemical processes your body requires slow down, resulting in hypothyroidism i.e. an underactive thyroid.
Many books on thyroid show that current practice relies on routine blood tests that are misleading and overlook a high proportion of low thyroid diagnoses and don't show the full picture of how well the thyroid is functioning – and often don’t identify those with autoimmune problems of the thyroid.
Many of these "good" readings of T4 don't take into consideration the levels of T4 that need to be converted to T3, the active hormone and readings of TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone), thyroxine levels (T4) and other blood parameters may lead one to believe you are in the "normal" range when the normal range may be far too broad. A simple test initiated by Dr. Broda Barnes (‘basal temperature test’) is considered a far better indicator. Plus, it has the added convenience of being able to be performed at home.
The procedure is simple:
- In the morning immediately upon wakening take your underarm temperature (women in menstruation should wait for ovulation to cease)
- Repeat procedure each day for five days
- Work out the average result
Normal is 36.6 o C or 97.8 o F. Anything under 36.2 o C or 96.9o F probably means varying degrees of suboptimal thyroid function or actual hypothyroidism.
Why You Need Iodine and L-tyrosine
Historically, iodine was always used for infections and for pneumonia and bronchitis. Lack of it was considered to be the cause of mental slowness. Along with iodine, your thyroid needs the amino acid, L-tyrosine. It is impossible to have a well-functioning thyroid (and adrenal system) without sufficient quantities in the diet or through supplementation.
Some researchers consider that iodine usage was incorrectly blamed for risks of hyperthyroidism and consequently its use curtailed. Other elements - chlorine, fluoride, and bromide (iodine blockers) - are commonly found in our environment or consumed in foods/drinks. These minerals are considered dangerous and toxic for your thyroid and block iodine receptors throughout the body but providing none of its benefits. In fact, fluoride blocks the ability of the thyroid gland to concentrate iodine - which the thyroid requires to build hormones. And bromide, a common ingredient, can cause depression and headaches.
The thyroid regulates the complete metabolic function of the body. Any dysfunction affects your ability to regulate body weight. An imbalance of its hormone can produce skin disorders, irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, muscle dysfunction, mental confusion, depression, decreased libido, and extreme fatigue. To fully restore the thyroid and its metabolic function may take 3-6 months for many people.
Properly, a medical evaluation of iodine levels is required but in some cases use of moderate levels of supplements and (monitoring of body temperature by the ‘basal temperature’) can enable correction.
Your gut health can be affected by your diet, lifestyle factors, age, liver, medication, stomach digestion and the bacteria existing in your intestines. For both prevention and correction of a range of health issues, probiotics- taken to modify the gut bacteria- can have significant benefits.
Why take probiotics?
The short answer is, "To be healthy." Probiotics can positively influence intrinsic populations of microbes in your body and their impact on many health conditions, in particular by targeting your digestion and immune systems. These systems then affect your entire body functions and interactions. Taking probiotics doesn't necessarily mean taking a probiotic supplement. Probiotics, or at least beneficial bacteria and yeasts, are available in fermented foods and drinks and with prebiotics which are foods that support existing populations of microbes. Research and practice has indicated some of the general effects and health benefits of probiotics :-
Aiding in digestion of foods, and the absorption,the generation and assimilation of nutrients
- Improved energy conversion
- Supporting proper development, protection and functioning of the intestines
- Boost the innate immune system and influence the acquired immune response –Some 70% or more of your immune system is found in the intestines.
- Protection against pathogenic microbes and parasites that can result from food poisoning or bacterial overgrowth
The mechanisms for these effects include:-
Proper development of your immune system and enhanced white cell responses;
- Helping your bowel movements to be regular, especially in diarrheoa, constipation, IBS and other digestive disorders;
- Communication with your body’s tissue cells to produce an anti-inflammatory response in particular with those with auto-immune diseases or allergies
- Producing short-chain fatty acids and balance water- and electrolyte absorption that affects your colon performance;
- Metabolizing some drugs & herbal remedies and improving their efficacy
- Producing B vitamins (particularly B12) and vitamin K . Possibly influencing mineral absorption ( e.g. iron), neurotransmitter production (e.g. serotonin) and hormone absorption (vitamin D)
- Preventing and treating diarrheoa in vulnerable groups:- infants, children, and the elderly
- Preventing gut dysbiosis and helping repopulate the digestive tract alongside oral antibiotic treatment so that the harmful microbes don’t dominate gut activity
- Protecting cell membranes from damage and preventing “leaky gut” by helping your body’s intestinal cells stay closer together
Types of probiotics
There are many hundreds of bacterial types that have been identified in human guts but research has indicated that there are about 30 of the more influential strains. Probiotic supplements may contain various levels of these individual strains. Choice can be crucial if trying to use probiotics to improve health or provide support during treatments. The main groups of probiotic bacteria areLactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, Saccharomyces and Streptococcusspecies. In general, many of the benefits for different strains of probiotic can overlap in their benefits but there are some specific strain advantages. The body's intestinal balance of probiotics and pathogens is delicate, and can easily be upset by factors such as antibiotics, stress, ageing, and diet. NB Precaution: In those individuals that are immune compromised or immune suppressed probiotics would not be advised as some strains could then be pathogenic.
Lactobacillus, and Bifidobacteriumspecies are thenormal first choice when moderate symptoms of IBS are presented. They may help to restore regularity. Both of them colonise, support immune cells and create a healthy lactic acid environment that limits survival of harmful bacteria. In the small intestine, it is particularly the preferred location of Lactobacillus Acidophilus species whilst Bifidobacterium species colonise primarily in the large intestine (or colon). Here they promote the production of antibodies, support the body against toxins and inhibit the development of undesirable bacteria by competitively excluding their attachment to the intestinal wall lining. A healthy balance of Bifidobacteria furthermore supports the intestines in assisting transit and optimising a healthy frequency and regularity of bowel movements.Saccharomyces boulardii is the probiotic choice for traveller’s diarrhoea or candida. This strain has been used for those suffering with C.Difficile and for ulcerative colitis. Saccharomyces boulardii is resistant to antibiotics but reduced by anti-fungals as it is yeast. Therefore do not use it contemporaneously with an anti-fungal but consider alternating them on a daily basis for any anti-candida programme. Lactobacillus Rhamnosus has been used to reduce inflammation effects (e.g. eczema).
The nature of common gut problems
Gut dysbiosis can be divided into 5 types, namely:-
Insufficient ‘good’ bacteria typical of IBS
Small intestinal overgrowth (SIBO). Typically bowel dis-function along with stomach related symptoms;
Immunosuppressive symptoms. Weakened gut e.g. candidiasis
Inflammatory dysbiosis. Often an autoimmune condition with inflammation of joints/muscles
Parasites. Often accompanied by chronic/acute diarrhoea
Tackling the problems
All of these types of dysbiosis, except the first, can require the removal of bad bacteria, yeast or parasites. All can be thought of as infections that are not readily detected or diagnosed. Eliminating foods that aggravate the symptoms or gut reactions is often the best first step. Some foods such as gluten, dairy and sugars are the most common found to cause intolerance or delayed allergies but are not the only food groups and a food intolerance test should be considered. This type of test differs from an allergy test that evaluates type 1 sensitive allergic reaction (i.e. IgE reaction) for example anaphylactic reaction. Other allergic reactions can also cause imbalance in immune responses. Allergic reactions may arise initially from a challenge to the gut bacteria and then the consequential allergic reactions perpetuate the problem.
After eliminating foods that cause intolerance, then consider introducing probiotics but be aware that some particular gut problems may be sensitive to the type of probiotic. So choosing the correct probiotic by trial and error may be necessary. Some conditions may require a high potency probiotic but in practice start with a low potency in case of die-off effects.
Amongst the other dietary considerations to help gut problems, it is worth considering the following:-
Digestive enzymes to reduce the source of undigested foods reaching the intestines with subsequent reactions or fermentation
Herbal anti-bacterials or anti-fungals that do not cause the extent of collateral damage to resident good bacteria
Tonics to improve liver and pancreatic function and hence increased digestive enzymes
The suggested approach should not be considered separately to medical advice and correct diagnosis of any gut related problems. A more systematic approach to chronic gut related disorders would be to undertake a stool analysis and other functional tests but these are rarely provided through the NHS.