Journal of Personal Science: Omega-3 and ADHD (Part 2 of 2)

by Allan Folz

My story of omega 3 and self-experimentation did not end with my wife and her pregnancy. As I mentioned, I discovered the paleo diet, Vitamin D, and fish oil all about the same time. Mostly for reasons of general good health we began supplementing with vitamin D and fish oil (Mega-EPA Omega-3 supplement). I ordered some of each from the same place online and we began supplementing both at the same time, around January-February of 2010. Continue reading “Journal of Personal Science: Omega-3 and ADHD (Part 2 of 2)”

Journal of Personal Science: Omega-3, Nursing a Baby and Postpartum Depression (Part 1 of 2)

by Allan Folz

My wife had moderately severe postpartum depression (PPD) after the birth of our first child, a boy, in 2004. The depression lifted at the same time the nursing stopped, when he was about two years old. The pregnancy itself was without major or even minor problems so the depression was a big surprise. It was frustrating because nothing we did to alleviate it actually helped. Continue reading “Journal of Personal Science: Omega-3, Nursing a Baby and Postpartum Depression (Part 1 of 2)”

Pregnancy Gingivitis: Failure to Look for the Cause

A few days ago, I learned from a Crest ad that a large fraction of pregnant women, such as half, suffer from gingivitis (inflamed gums). It’s called pregnancy gingivitis. The ad recommended better dental hygiene, such as brushing your teeth more.

Thirty years from now will people think how could they [meaning us] have been that stupid? Faced with pregnancy gingivitis, they brushed their teeth more? Pregnancy gingivitis is supposedly due to “hormones” that increase during pregnancy. In other words, a health expert actually thinks — or claims to think — that pregnancy gingivitis has a different explanation than other gingivitis. Yet he doesn’t know what causes other gingivitis. For example, here is what Mayo Clinic experts say causes gingivitis. This makes no sense. But it is worse than most nonsense, since fetal health is at stake.

Several years ago, I greatly increased my flaxseed intake because I discovered it improved my balance. My gums suddenly went from red (inflamed) to pink (not inflamed), no doubt because flaxseed has lots of omega-3, which is anti-inflammatory. Gingivitis is — usually? always? — caused by too little omega-3.

My theory: pregnancy gingivitis happens because pregnant women need more omega-3 than usual. A growing brain needs lots of omega-3.  If this theory turns out to be true, the gums of pregnant women should be monitored to make sure they are getting enough omega-3. Nowadays pregnant women are given omega-3 to take but there is no test to make sure it is enough. That pregnancy gingivitis is common suggests it often isn’t enough. Actually, everyone’s gums should be checked to make sure they are getting enough omega-3.

Assorted Links

  • No correlation between omega-3 levels and cognitive function. I found strong effects of flaxseed oil (high in omega-3) in experiments, so this finding doesn’t worry me. Maybe the measures of cognitive function in this study depended on too many things they didn’t measure or control.
  • Does methanol cause multiple sclerosis?  Woodrow Monte makes a good case. “In the 1940s, . . . the National Multiple Sclerosis Society found the incidence of the disease to be virtually equally distributed between the sexes. . . . The real sea change in the incidence of MS in women did not come until after the introduction of a brand new methanol source . . . a can of diet soda sweetened with aspartame has up to four times the amount of methanol as a can of green beans. . . . At the 59th annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurology in Boston on April 26, 2007 
  • Honey in human evolution. “Upper Paleolithic (8,000 – 40,000 years ago) rock art from all around the world depicts early humans collecting honey. . . . .The Hadza hunter-gatherers of Tanzania list honey as their number one preferred food item.”
  • What one climate scientist really thinks about Michael Mann. “MBH98 [Mann et al.] was not an example of someone using a technique with flaws and then as he [Mann] learned better techniques he moved on… He fought like a dog to discredit and argue with those on the other side that his method was not flawed. And in the end he never admitted that the entire method was a mistake. Saying “I was wrong but when done right it gives close to the same answer” is no excuse. He never even said that . . . They used a brand new statistical technique that they made up and that there was no rationalization in the literature for using it. They got results which were against the traditional scientific communities view on the matters and instead of re-evaluating and checking whether the traditional statistics were [still] valid [in this unusual case] (which they weren’t), they went on and produced another one a year later. They then let this HS [hockey stick] be used in every way possible . . . despite knowing the stats behind it weren’t rock solid.”  Smart people still fail to grasp the weakness of the evidence. Elon Musk, the engineer, recently blogged, responding to Tesla fires, that Tesla development must happen as fast as possible because if delayed “it will . . . increase the risk of global climate change.”

Thanks to Dave Lull, Stuart King and Joe Nemetz.

Omega-3 and Omega-6 in Common Foods and My Consumption

Here is a graph (source) of the omega-3 and omega-6 content of common foods. Although walnuts are relatively high in omega-3, they are much higher in omega-6. This may be why eating them reduced the performance of my lab assistants on a brain test.

When I’m in China, I eat 60 g/day of ground flaxseed. According to this graph, this provides 1.2 g/day omega-3, far more than I would get from any ordinary diet. For example, eating lots of fish would provide much less. I chose this amount based on balance and brain speed results. Flaxseed is hard to get in Beijing. Surely I am the biggest consumer in the China. I am pretty sure I am the only person ever to have optimized my intake. The best amount turned out to be surprisingly high.  “We recommend one to two tablespoons [per day],” says a website that sells flaxseed. High consumption of omega-3 should protect me against bad effects of omega-6. For example, when I eat peanuts (high in omega-6), my brain test scores don’t change.

Experts say flaxseed is a poor source of omega-3 because it provides short-chain omega-3 whereas the brain needs long-chain omega-3. My results — plenty of brain benefit from flaxseed — suggest this is wrong. The experiments that measured short-chain-to-long-chain conversion did not take account of the effect of experience on enzyme production. If you eat more of a certain food, your body will produce more of the enzymes that digest it. The subjects in the conversion experiments may have had little experience. If your long-chain omega-3 supply is limited by what enzymes can produce, you will get a steadier supply of long-chain omega-3 from enzymatic production than you will from eating the same amount all at once. For this reason dietary short-chain omega-3 could easily be a better source of long-chain omega-3 than dietary long-chain omega-3 itself.

Assorted Links

Thanks to Alex Chernavsky and Dave Lull.

Omega-3: More Evidence of Brain Benefit

From the Wall Street Journal:

In a study to be released Tuesday, participants with low levels of omega-3 fatty acids in their blood had slightly smaller brains and scored lower on memory and cognitive tests than people with higher blood levels of omega-3s. The changes [that is, the differences] in the brain were equivalent to about two years of normal brain aging, says the study’s lead author.

As this article recommends, I used to eat plenty of fish. But I still noticed a dramatic improvement in my balance and cognitive abilities when I started taking flaxseed oil. The best amount seemed to be 2-3 tablespoons/day. Fish wasn’t supplying close to the optimum amount of omega-3. One comment on the article was

The only proper response to this article should be, “Duh.”

I disagree. A better response is to ask How much room for improvement is there?

The “Disgusting” Foods I Eat

In a review of Anna Reid’s new book, Leningrad: Tragedy of a City Under Siege, I learned that one of the calorie sources that starving Leningraders came to eat was:

‘macaroni’ made from flax seed for cattle

To which I say: Damn. The implication is that, before the famine, “flax seed for cattle”, which is roughly the same as flax seed, was considered unfit for human consumption. Only when starving did Leningraders stoop to eat it. I can buy flax seed in Beijing. But not easily.

The triangle is complete. I have now learned that the main things I care about in my diet, which I go to great lengths to eat every day, are all considered “disgusting” by a large number of people:

1. Flax seed. It is the best source of omega-3 I have found. I eat ground flax seeds every day. Flaxseed oil goes bad too easily.

2. Butter. Perhaps the most reviled food in America, at least by nutritionists. A cardiologist once told me, “You’re killing yourself” by eating it.

3. Fermented foods. Many fermented foods are considered disgusting — after all, they are little different than spoiled foods.

The Irrelevance of Grass-Fed Beef (Ancestral Health Symposium 2013)

Grass-fed beef is better than ordinary (grain-fed) beef because it has a better omega-3/omega-6 ratio. I’ve heard this a thousand times. It’s true. Grass has more omega-3 than grain, which is high in omega-6. But it is misleading. For practical purposes, grass-fed and grain-fed beef are the same in terms of omega-3 and omega-6. 

Peter Ballerstedt made this point in his talk at the recent Ancestral Health Symposium. He showed this slide, based on research by Susan Burkett.omega3omega6

This shows the amount of omega-3 and omega-6 in one serving of various foods. The amounts in grass- and grain-fed beef are small relative to other foods most people eat. People who have said eat grass-fed beef, such as Michael Pollan, should have been saying eat less chicken. When I started eating grass-fed instead of grain-fed beef, I noticed no differences, which agrees with this analysis.

Canker Sores Quickly Cured by Walnuts: More Evidence for Importance of Omega-3

A reader of this blog named PSB, who lives in New Jersey, told me the following:

I’m 52.  I happen to like walnuts and was snacking on them and noticed the pain from canker sores was lessened.  I kept eating [walnuts] the next couple days and found the sores healed quickly, painlessly and were gone within a few days. They usually take quite a while to go away. The walnut thing was accidental and just from observation noticing the change in the sores. The sores are still gone and although I haven’t been eating lots of walnuts, I usually grab them here and there.

Her daughter “has suffered from canker sores for years . . . [and] gets multiple at a time and they are usually very painful.” Her daughter is resistant to eating walnuts. I asked why. “Doesn’t listen to her mother, knows it all and I sometimes thinks she prefers to complain. Other than that, no real reason, hahaha,” said PSB.

I’ve blogged before (here and here) about canker sores cured by omega-3. Walnuts are high in omega-3, supporting what I said. The Mayo Clinic lists eight possible causes of canker sores, including “A diet lacking in Vitamin B-12, zinc, folate (folic acid) or iron”. Nothing about omega-3.

Better Balance and Gums From Flaxseed Oil

When I took flaxseed oil capsules for reasons connected with the Shangri-La Diet, I noticed, to my surprise, that my balance improved. The next time I saw my dentist, he told me that my gums were much better. A reader of this blog named Chuck Currie has noticed the same things.

I ran across a reference to your book again which led me to your website. And, like I said, from there to Mark Sisson and all the rest.

I had already ran across information about flax oil and cholesterol and heart health. So I started taking two tablespoons a day [of flaxseed oil] – morning and night. I noticed my balance improvement while doing yoga, but thought it was due to practice. After reading several paleo blogs, I switched to fish oil – one table spoon a day in the morning. Then after reading some other studies regarding possible negative effects of over-consumption of fish oil, I stopped that also.

During this time I really became a strict paleo/primal eater and exerciser. No carbs other than leafy greens and non-starchy vegs. No more chronic cardio. Stopped swimming due to shoulder issues. Started using kettlebells and body weight tabata exercise. Went back and forth on supplementation. My weight dropped to below 120. [He’s 5 feet 8 inches tall.]

I was getting totally confused on what was legit and what was BS. Sure I lost weight, but I must have looked sick because people were asking if I was all right. I think they thought I had cancer or AIDS. I felt great though. No more 2 o’clock naps and I slept great. Then I read Kurt Harris’s 2.0 blog and that set me straight – and straight back to your blog.

It made me think, OK what works on the individual level, not the hypothesis level. I had also noticed that my balance had deteriorated (I thought it was because I stopped doing yoga) and my gums were bleeding again – I had forgotten that they had stopped bleeding. [After he switched from flaxseed oil to fish oil, his balance slowly got worse.] Sort of back to basics. Sun, lots of it, or D3 – 10,000 units (I am sitting in the sun as I type this on my iPhone). Omega 3 – your posts about flax oil made sense – [sudden release of short-chain omega-3 causes] slow release [of long-chain omega-3] – and is more sustainable than cold water fish and fish oil. Magnesium at night for better sleep and muscle cramps. (when I first went full paleo, I suffered from terrible leg cramps during the night until I found magnesium). And extra butter – beyond cooking with it.

I tested the flax/balance question by continuing to not practice yoga or any other balancing exercises and [measure my balance] just using my ability to wash my feet in the shower without leaning against the wall – which had been my normal habit before my first improvement and then again when it went away. After about a week – perfect balance – both washing and drying my feet. Also, no gum bleeding. So as some would say, “the shit works”.

[He added later:] I can definitely say, with a high degree of confidence, that my balance is not as good when taking fish oil as it is when taking flax oil. Fish oil does provide a small improvement over not supplementing any omega-3. But the big improvement comes with flax oil.

Make Yourself Healthy: Diverticulitis

You have diverticulitis when “diverticula in your digestive tract become inflamed or infected. Diverticula are small, bulging pouches.” A man in his forties named Tuck had a serious case:

In my twenties I got really sick; lying in bed for 5 days, bleeding from the lower part of my digestive tract: not pretty. . . Delirious days later and ten pounds lighter and I was recovered, except for one problem: I had diarrhea for the subsequent 14 years. . . . Two years ago [2008] I passed out on the toilet on a ski weekend. The emergency room at Bennington Hospital [Vermont] told me it was a stomach flu.

Four weeks later I got cramps at work. I had to lie on the floor until it passed. Then I drove to my doctor’s office, and he told me that I had diverticulitis, and I had to go to the emergency room. I drove myself, and barely made it. I was in agony; I nearly passed out again while they were interviewing me to see if it was “serious”. . . . I had a perforated colon. . . . I spent the next four days in the pre-operative ward, so if it got worse they could cut me open immediately. I lost 10 pounds. Then I started bleeding, and I realized these were all the same symptoms that I had had 14 years before. My blood pressure got so low that the automated blood-pressure machine wouldn’t work . . .

I mentioned to all three of the doctors I saw that I had had constant diarrhea for the last 14 years, since the first attack, and they shrugged. They told me to eat more fiber, and whole wheat, even though that was what I had been eating for the last 20 years. So I avoided surgery, started eating salad with salad dressing (containing industrial seed oils) and lots of whole wheat. . . . But the more salad and whole wheat I ate, the worse it got. I couldn’t understand why. Finally had to have eight inches of my colon removed. The diarrhea continued, so obviously the cause remained.

Then something happened that, before blogging, wasn’t possible: Continue reading “Make Yourself Healthy: Diverticulitis”

Flaxseed Lowers Blood Pressure

A new study found that ground flaxseed powerfully lowers blood pressure:

A patient population with peripheral artery disease (PAD) was selected as ideal to benefit from dietary flaxseed. . . . Patients received 30g of milled flaxseed (or placebo) each day over 6 months. [I eat  50 g/day — Seth] . . . No significant adverse events were associated with flaxseed ingestion. . . . SBP in the placebo group increased by ~3 mmHg and DBP remained the same over the experimental period. However, SBP levels were ~10 mmHg lower (P<0.04) and DBP was ~8 mmHg lower (P<0.004) in the flax group compared to placebo. In the flaxseed group, patients with a SBP <140 mmHg at baseline did not receive an anti-hypertensive effect but patients who entered the trial with a SBP > 140 mmHg at baseline obtained a sustained and significant 15 and 7 mmHg reduction in SBP and DBP, respectively, during the six months. . . . one of the most potent anti-hypertensive effects ever observed by a dietary intervention.

This supports my belief that we can improve our overall health by trying to improve our brains (which are more sensitive than the rest of the body). I have blogged about flaxseed oil many times. I became interested in it when I noticed it improved my balance. Balance measurements showed that the optimal dose  (2-4 T/day) was higher than flaxseed oil manufacturers suggested.  Then I and others noticed that taking this amount of flaxseed oil produced big improvements in gum health. Tyler Cowen, for example, no longer needed gum surgery. Go home, said the surgeon.

Thanks to Grace Liu.

Assorted Links

Thanks to Anne Weiss and Dave Lull.

My Dental Exam: Good Gums

A week ago I had my teeth cleaned. So dirty! said the dental hygienist. This wasn’t surprising. Because I am in China a lot, I get my teeth cleaned only twice per year. Long ago they got dirty so fast my dentist insisted on four cleanings per year. “But aren’t my gums okay?” I asked the hygienist. They felt okay. Not tender. They did’t bleed when I flossed (which wasn’t often). No, she said. You have pockets of 5 (= 5 mm depth). There is bleeding. Indeed, when I washed out my mouth with water at the end, there was some blood.

Yesterday I had my teeth examined. The hygienist was wrong. Almost all my pockets were 2’s, with a few 3s. That’s very good and a vast improvement from the 4s and 5s I had before I became a big fan of flaxseed oil. My gums improved exactly when I started drinking flaxseed oil, no doubt because the omega-3 in flaxseed oil reduces inflammation. My gums were fine in spite of all the plaque — which is supposed to make gums bad. Apparently the hygienist was so devoted to her theory (lots of plaque = bad gums) that she failed to see an exception she stared at for 30 minutes.

There is a well-established correlation between gum disease and heart disease (more gum disease, more heart disease), probably because both are caused by inflammation. So good gums is very good news — it shows I am doing a good job of reducing inflammation throughout my body. These results also support two of my pet theories:

1. Studying what foods make the brain work best is a good way to improve overall health. I started studying flaxseed oil, and how much to take, because I discovered by accident that it improved my balance. Experiments (what is the effect of flaxseed oil on my balance?) soon showed the optimum amount/day was more than flaxseed oil makers recommended! Before I started eating lots of butter, the optimum for me was about 3 tablespoons/day. After I started eating lots of butter, the optimum seems to have gone down to 2 tablespoons/day. Gum improvement seems to be easy to notice at about 1 tablespoon/day.

2. Our health care system fails to get the simplest things right. Omega-3 is not a mysterious nutrient. It has been shown to improve health in thousands of studies. It is well-known that it is anti-inflammatory. It is also well-known that too much inflammation is a major problem. Even so, our health care system has failed to grasp that a large fraction of the population eats too little omega-3 and this has an easy fix. Other examples of failure to get the simplest things right include gastroenterologists not realizing that digestive problems may be caused by food, dermatologists not realizing that acne may be caused by food, and everyone not realizing that cutting off part of the immune system (tonsillectomies) is a terrible idea.

What other simple things does our health care system get wrong?

How Useful is Personal Genomics? A Case Study

How much can you help yourself by getting your genome sequenced? A lot, a little, not at all? Scenario 1 (big help): You discover you have a greatly elevated risk of Disease X. You do various things to reduce that risk that actually reduce it. Scenario 2: (a little help): You discover you have a greatly elevated risk of Rare Disease X. You do various things to reduce that risk but they don’t help. At least, when Disease X starts, you will be less upset. Scenario 3 (no help): You discover that you have a greatly elevated risk for a common easily-noticed disease (such as obesity). You already watched your weight, this changes nothing. Scenario 4 (harm): You discover that you have a greatly elevated risk of Scary Disease X (e.g., bipolar disorder). It is depressing news. Later studies show that the gene/disease association was a mistake. (Many gene/disease associations have failed to replicate.)

A recent Wired article tries to answer this question for one person: Raymond McCauley, a bioinformatics scientist who had his genome sequenced four years ago and learned he was “four or five times more likely than most people to develop age-related macular degeneration (AMD)”. The article says “of all the ailments described in the 23andme profile, AMD has one of the strongest genetic associations”. If I found this in my genetic profile, I would want to know the confidence interval of the increased risk. Is it a factor of 4.5 plus or minus 1? Or 4.5 plus or minus 8? This isn’t easy to figure out. In addition to the question of variability, there can easily be bias (= estimate is too high). Let’s say I do 100 gene/disease association studies. Then I scan these studies to pick the one with the strongest gene/disease association. It should be obvious that this particular association is likely to be too high and, depending on the details, could plausibly be pure chance (i.e., true association is zero).  I have been unable to find out how replicable the gene/AMD association is. According to Wikipedia, “the lifetime risk of developing late-stage macular degeneration is 50% for people that have a relative with macular degeneration, versus 12% for people that do not have relatives with macular degeneration.” (Until it was eliminated via better diet, pellagra also ran in families.) The Wired article does not say whether any of McCauley’s relatives have/had AMD — a huge omission, given the uncertainty of gene/disease associations.

It wasn’t obvious what McCauley should do, according to the article:

McCauley read that there were a few preventative measures he could take to reduce the chances of AMD one day rendering him blind: don’t smoke and avoid ultraviolet light, for instance. Also, it seemed, he could try taking a special combination of vitamins, including B12 and lutein. But when he consulted the research, he could find little evidence to support the effectiveness of the regime, based on his genotype.

The article says nothing about quitting smoking but he does wear glasses that reduce ultraviolet light and takes certain vitamins. It is very hard for him to determine whether they help.

I have documented in other posts that brain function is sensitive to omega-3 intake and (probably) most people don’t get enough. Of course, just as it is foolish to smoke (a lot) regardless of whether you have genetic risk of AMD, it is foolish to not optimize one’s omega-3 intake, whether or not you have genetic risk of AMD. In other words: everyone should optimize their omega-3 intake.  If the 23andme results cause McCauley to do something wise like this that he would otherwise not have done, they have helped him.

The omega-3 study appeared after the Wired article so I don’t know how McCauley reacted to it. A puzzle about the  story is that it isn’t even clear that the gene/AMD associations are true. Consider McCauley’s older relatives: parents, grandparents. Did/do any of them have AMD? If not, it is more plausible that all of them were at 12% risk of the disease than at 50% risk. Suppose all of them had, according to 23andme, the same increased risk as McCauley (at least some of them have the risk-bearing genes). Now it becomes more plausible that something is wrong with the 23andme risk estimate. If some of McCauley’s older relatives do have AMD, it is not clear why the 23andme results would make much difference. He should have already have known he was at increased risk of AMD.

The upshot is that in this particular case, I cannot even rule out Scenario 4 (does harm). All four scenarios strike me as plausible.  Based on this article, we are a long way from learning the value of personal genomics.

Previously I used the example of Aaron Blaisdell to make the possibly counter-intuitive point that if you have a genetic disease something is wrong with your environment. Well, I do not have any obvious genetic disease. But I discovered, via self-experimentation, that my environment was terrible — meaning it could be improved in all sorts of ways: stop eating breakfast, drink flaxseed oil, eat butter, look at faces in the morning, take Vitamin D in the morning, and so on, not to mention eat fermented foods (which I figured out via psychology, not self-experimentation). My findings about what is optimal are so different than the way anyone now lives (except people who read this blog) that I believe everyone‘s environment can be vastly improved. If so, the value of discovering you have a genetically elevated risk of this or that is not obvious — you should already be trying to improve your environment. At least that is what my data has taught me. On the other hand, maybe genetic info (even wrong genetic info!) will give you a kick in the pants. Maybe that has happened with McCauley.


Assorted Links

Thanks to David Cramer and Nadalal.

Flaxseed Oil and Gum Disease: Still More Success

The following comment was left a few days ago:

I was doing SLD using flax seed oil for two weeks before my last dental appointment.  My pockets that were 4’s and 5″s magically changed to 2’s and 3″s.  I had my dentist print both the reports because I was so grateful that they stopped talking about some really painful sounding root work.  My brushing and flossing were totally unchanged.  I was expecting the result because of what I’ve read on the blog, but nothing this good.  I am convinced that taking flax=reduction in gum inflammation, at the very least. [emphasis added]

Take that, “decline effect” (big experimental effects, when the experiment is repeated, get smaller)!

The  commenter sent me the records of the two cleanings. At the pre-flaxseed-oil cleaning (April 28, 2011), he had 24 sites (13 teeth) with pockets of depth 4 or 5. At the cleaning after he started flaxseed oil (July 28, 2011), he had no sites with pockets of depth 4 or 5.

You can find many similar reports here.

Assorted Links

Thanks to Tim Beneke.

Assorted Links

Thanks to Robin Barooah and Mike Bowerman.