Many scientists believe that omega-3 fatty acids, found mostly in fish, can prevent heart disease, so it’s no wonder these fats are being added to all kinds of products. But before you buy the latest omega-3 wonder food, check the label. Some contain a version of the nutrient that may not do you much good at all.
Omega-3 fatty acids are present in greatest quantities in fish, though increasingly they are added to other foods. (Andrew Scrivani for The New York Times)While numerous health claims have been made about omega-3’s, only the heart protection benefits are backed by strong evidence. And not all omega-3’s are created equal, notes the Center for Science in the Public Interest in the current issue of Nutrition Action Healthletter. The omega-3’s that count are DHA and EPA, the types present in fish and algae. You can get them by eating seafood or taking supplements.
But some foods claiming to offer omega-3’s mostly contain a form called ALA, which is naturally present in flaxseed, canola and soy. So far, ALA doesn’t have any proven health benefit, according to David Schardt, senior nutritionist at the center. Hellmann’s Mayonnaise, for instance, boasts that it’s naturally rich in ALA, but researchers disagree as to whether ALA promotes heart health (though there is some evidence that it lowers cholesterol). Of greater concern are studies showing that men who eat lots of ALA have higher rates of advanced prostate cancer. That doesn’t mean ALA poses a serious health risk, notes the center, but men shouldn’t go out of their way to eat it, either.
In any case, many products trumpeting omega-3 fatty acids contain only tiny amounts. Breyer’s adds an algae-based DHA to its Breyer’s Smart! Yogurt. A six-ounce container of Breyer’s Smart! Yogurt has just 32 milligrams of DHA — about as much as you’d get in three-quarters of a teaspoon of salmon.
The bottom line is that eating fatty fish twice a week will bring you plenty of DHA and EPA. A six-ounce serving of farmed Atlantic salmon, for instance, contains 3,650 milligrams of these fats. If you don’t like fish or are a vegetarian, consider taking fish oil or algae oil supplements.
Who would ever suspect a common link between panic attacks and heart disease risk – and even risk of death??? Well it turns out, research has now shown what I long suspected and talked about in my book, The Body Shape Solution to Weight Loss and Wellness. Women who have panic attacks appear to be at much higher risk for cardiovascular disease and even death.
Researchers followed 3,300 women ages 51 to 83 (postmenopausal women) and found that a history of full-blown panic attacks in the past six months was associated with a more than fourfold risk for coronary heart disease. They also found a 75 percent increase in mortality from all causes, compared with women who did not have panic attacks. The study was just published in the October 2007 issue of The Archives of General Psychiatry. Younger women were not part of the research study, but there is every reason to suspect that younger women with panic attacks and too much belly fat are at greater risk too. But with menopause, women lose their protective estrogen and pear-shape…making apple-shapes of most of us!!
A four times greater risk of coronary disease is exactly the same risk an apple-shaped woman faces as well. It turns out that the common thread linking panic attacks, heart disease risk and apple-shape is TOO MUCH DANGEROUS ABDOMINAL (belly) FAT. As you might suspect, the researchers found that women who had panic attacks were also more likely to smoke and to have high blood pressure, diabetes and symptoms of depression as well as a history of cardiovascular problems – all signs of too much belly fat.
The connection among all these factors is cortisol. And apple-shaped women are chock full of it. People with apple-shapes are likely to have more cortisol in their bodies at any given time. Under stress, they become more distressed and their cortisol levels soar higher than those of pear-shaped women under similar stress. More cortisol equals more abdominal fat. Adding inches around your waist could lead to further cortisol and, which would mean still more added weight in the apple zone, and so on.
In theory, if you break one link in the chain, you can break the cycle. The easiest link to attack, because it is the one you have the most control over, is abdominal fat. Losing inches will not only help you avoid heart disease and diabetes, it may also help you fight depression and reduce your stress reactions. If visceral adipose tissue has feedback systems that affect cortisol production or secretion—and it very well may—then reducing the amount of fat around your middle may make you feel better mentally as well as physically.
The best way to lose inches is to follow the program for apple-shaped women that I describe in my book. In a nutshell, walking 30 minutes a day and a diet of healthy fats and high fiber is just what you need to start shedding inches and shrinking your risk of heart disease and death – and may just be what you need to help both your body and your brain to stay healthy.
To learn what body shape you have, download forms for your shape to help track your health, and to learn more how to reduce inches – visit me at www.drsavard.com
As always, I welcome your questions and comments.