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Dietary Supplements

What are the health benefits of chia seed?

What an amazing seed with an amazingly long history of delivering on taste, health and performance for humans dating back to the Aztec Warriors! Chia seeds are truly nature’s most powerful and delicious grain and besides really enjoying their taste, I found them to be a critical source of nutrients and energy during my day to day routine in the clinic or hospital or while out on missions as an Army physician. The seeds are perfect mixed into a smoothie, yogurt, on cereal or part of a bar. When I am in a hurry, I also mix several tablespoons of the seeds together in water, let sit for 5 minutes, add a touch of agave nectar or honey, and then grab a spoon and dig in! I call this “chia-meal” and it replaces my over the counter fiber supplements and I love it. The seeds are jam-packed with an array of disease-fighting and health-promoting nutrients. Chia is loaded with protein, very high in fiber, antioxidant content (they contain similar antioxidant power as blueberries!), and lots of water molecules which helps you stay hydrated when needing to perform your best and aids in digestion. They are also very high in an Omega-3 called ALA. Sources rich in ALA have been shown to reduce cardiovascular disease and heart attacks. Note: Omega-3 ALA does not appear as powerful however as the other two dietary Omega-3s, EPA and DHA). To me, the Omega-3 ALA in chia though is just a small bonus on top of a ton of other nutrients. Chia seeds are also high in important minerals including calcium, phosphorous, and manganese that further help improve bone mineral density. There is something else interesting about chia seeds –the seeds dissolve inside your stomach and intestine to form a smooth, soft, gel-like substance that helps your body digest carbohydrates more efficiently before the glucose enters your bloodstream. This means a slower blood glucose and insulin rise, leading to better glucose stability and energy. This makes chia a “low glycemic index” food. Studies show that diabetics, who especially need to control their blood sugar, really benefit from adding chia to their diet. The unique combination of nutrients, great taste, energy profile, and physical properties of the chia seed make this a true (and proven) winner for endurance, bone mass, heart health, gastrointestinal health, and general wellness. As the Aztecs Warrior believed, chia seeds are part of my essential “nutritional armor” for internal cellular health and performance.


Should I take aspirin even if I take omega 3 supplements daily?

The scientific evidence shows that taking aspirin (in the standard recommended doses) while taking fish oil (in the range of 1-4 grams per day of fish oil) does not increase the risk of bleeding or adverse effects; even in patients that undergo surgery while using both together. Furthermore, fish oils do not have additive anti-platelet (blood thinning) effects when combined with aspirin.
The American Journal of Cardiology in 2007 published an expert research opinion on this topic. The research presented examined many studies in which patients were undergoing surgeries such as heart surgery and surgeries that repaired neck vessels with disease (thickening/clotting) to see if patients had an increased risk of bleeding. The patients taking fish oils were being treated with either anti-platelet (“Aspirin”) or antithrombotic (anti-clotting) medications such as Heparin and Coumadin and there were no serious adverse bleeding events in all the studies examined.
Recent evidence from a trauma surgeon at Oregon Health Sciences, Dr Robert Martindale, indicates fish oil actually improves surgical outcomes in the critical care setting when fish oil is given in and around the time of surgery. This is through the ability to decrease inflammation, improve and stabilize the heart beat, and other mechanisms.
You should always discuss medication interactions and medications in and around the time of surgery with your healthcare provider.


Do we need multivitamins?

While serving as a military physician deployed in combat and charged with carrying for our nation’s finest men and women in uniform, I know firsthand the benefits of a good diet but also the benefits of supplements and multivitamins. Whether for performance or health, I have to know what works. Their lives depend on it.
A good diet is the foundation for better health, but obviously even those of us that know how to eat right don’t always eat the way they should with our busy schedules and mostly inadequate intake of fresh fruits and vegetables and fish (the ideal but not always practical, I can tell). And some nutrients, like vitamin E, are beneficial in amounts far beyond the levels that can be obtained even in a good diet, especially with the way our modern food is grown, harvested, and prepared.
I have developed a type of dietary supplement guide that allows for modifications for athletic and military performance objectives as well as variations in diet. It is a model based on the “food guide pyramid”, so that one understands the proper way to view supplements for health, wellness and performance.
After the importance of daily fish oil (Omega-3 EPA/DHA), a high quality (and bio-available) multivitamin/mineral product is the foundation and will fill most nutrient gaps in normal diets which is essential for healthy living.
A multivitamin will provide the 400 mcg of folic acid that women of childbearing age should get every day, for the sake of their unborn babies. Since most pregnancies are unplanned, women need to be ready for the unexpected. Folic acid taken before pregnancy and during the first trimester can greatly reduce the risk of having a baby with neural tube birth defect such as spina bifida, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
But multivitamins are not just for young women. Multivitamins with folic acid may also help reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke in men and women of all ages. Folic acid, vitamin B-6 and vitamin B-12 help reduce blood levels of homocysteine (an amino acid produced in the body), and people with lower homocysteine levels have a lower risk of heart disease and stroke.
Eat right but use a multivitamin to fill in the gaps; it’s just plain smart and provides some cheap health insurance. Remember, quality and bioavailability is everything and don’t forget the importance of Omega-3 EPA/DHA fish oil.


What are the side effects of fish oil supplements?

Fish oil is SAFE for virtually all people, including pregnant and breast-feeding women. They are essential for wellness, health, and optimal performance. “Western” diets are typically very deficient in them. The high demand has led to rapid growth of the fish oil market which has created many brands and a spectrum of quality. Adverse effects depend on quality as with all supplements.
Fish oil can occasionally cause minimal side effects including belching and a fishy “burp back.” Both effects can be minimized with a high quality supplement that has not undergone “oxidation” (degradation) prior to putting in capsules/bottles. Consuming the capsules (or oil) with meals can minimize burp back as can refrigerating or freezing the capsules. In rare occasions, one can experience heartburn, nausea, loose stools, and a skin rash. Again, high quality products can help minimize side effects while ensuring efficacy of the product.
Taking more than 3 grams per day does “thin” the blood and therefore may increase your bleeding time. Yet some studies have found benefits of high dose fish oil; even around surgery (actually given through the veins) showing that the benefits on the immune system and infection rates outweigh any theoretical bleeding risk. While taking more than 3 grams per day might “thin” the blood this may be precisely what contributes to the anti-clotting benefit; helping to lower the risk of heart attacks and strokes. Fish oil should be thought of as “normalizing” bleeding since most of us have an excess amount of Omega-6s in our diet leading to “sludgy” blood; now considered “normal.” That said, if you have a bleeding problem or risk of bleeding problem, talk to a provider. Extremely high doses of 30-40 grams per day or more are not recommended for this reason. Personally, I have not used higher than 9 grams per day in clinical practice.
Some fish meats (especially shark, king mackerel, and farm-raised salmon) can be contaminated with mercury and other industrial and environmental chemicals, but high quality fish oil supplements typically do not contain these contaminants.
High quality fish oil is very safe. 3 to 4 grams (usually 3-4 fish oil 1000mg capsules with high EPA/DHA) is a great dosage for general health benefits. Some conditions or situations may require higher dosages but discuss with an expert in nutraceutical science. If you have liver disease or seafood allergies, consult your provider.

How does fish oil benefit health?

Today they are somewhere around 14,000 studies showing us the benefits of fish oil, more than any one single drug! In the military pilots, I use fish oil to enhance the “resilience” of the men and women and improve their mood and heart health status. I also have worked with professional athletes who have noticed considerable benefits in their sports from the mental and mood benefits. At NASA we will soon be researching it to help with cognitive functioning (“brain smartness”).
But don’t be fooled, not all fish oil is the same.
Cool Facts: You need fish oil high in Omega-3 EPA/DHA as some fish oil uses filler oil and disguises low EPA/DHA levels. So be sure to read the back of the label and look for high EPA and DHA levels (above 600 grams per 1 gram capsules) and take at least 2 grams total Omega-3 EPA/DHA per day (not just 2 gram capsules). Some companies can tailor the ratios of EPA/DHA to target certain benefits!
Omega-3 EPA/DHA made from fish oil is also a drug now, being prescribed all over the world today to reduce heart disease by reducing cholesterol (specifically, high triglycerides). But you don’t need a prescription to get the natural benefits of this wonderful organic compound found in certain oily fish and fish oil supplements.
Summary of the benefits:
1) Lowers risk of death from heart disease, heart attack, and decreases stroke by preventing clots, decreasing inflammation in the vessels, decreasing cholesterol, and stabilizing the heart beat to prevent irregular heart contractions. Studies show that fish oil has been shown to save lives and sudden death from heart attacks!
2) Reduces inflammation in the body which helps conditions such as arthritis and possibly inflammatory bowel disease.
3) Improves mood and cognition and overall “brain health” and treats depression. It lower rates of depression and suicide in populations with higher Omega-3 EPA/DHA (fish oil) intake from seafood. It also decreases post-partum depression.
4) It improves IQ and overall motor control in children. Possibly decreases memory loss in adults suffering from cognitive decline. Mom’s who eat more seafood during pregnancy have smarter babies with less behavioral problems.
5) Fish oil might help prevent osteoporosis
6) Fish Oil might help to prevent breast cancer
6) Fish Oil might improve skin quality and texture.
Bottomline, “oil your body” with the wonderful wellness molecules of life found in fish oil, Omega-3 EPA/DHA!


Can taking fish oil supplements benefit your joints?

Research supports that EPA, one of the Omega-3s found in fish oil, is the key anti-inflammatory. Fish oil contains 2 “miracle” Omega-3s, EPA and DHA (algae products contain only DHA). EPA regulates the effects of Omega-6s in the body and reduces the associated inflammatory disease risks including heart attacks (inflammation in vessels) and arthritis (inflammation in joints) which can benefit overall joint function. Even certain auto-immune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis have shown to benefit from regular fish oil consumption as a result of the high EPA concentrations.
The Omega-6 called ARA (arachidonic acid) is strongly pro-inflammatory. Omega-6s are now abundant in our food supply and the EPA from fish oil helps regulate the Omega-6 effects. The ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 is upwards to 25:1 which leads to a variety of chronic diseases from the inflammation besides joint pain or worsening arthritis–so while we need to increase the amount of fish oil and thus EPA, we need to also decrease the Omega-6 intake.
My Take Home Point:
Fish oil through the actions of EPA can help “oil” your joints and feel better with less pain if the pain is due to inflammation in the joint such as osteoarthritis from overuse or “aging” of the joint. But it won’t happen overnight. The Omega-6 to Omega-3 “inflammation balance” takes time to restore (give it a month or two). When specifically trying to reduce inflammation, be sure to read the nutrition facts labels and pick a high EPA:DHA ratio product in the range of 2:1 EPA to DHA. I personally like to see at least 400mg of EPA to 200mg of DHA per fish oil capsule to combat inflammation and improve joint function. Once you have the ratio right in each capsule, consume at least 2-4 capsules per day.


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