The Best Sources of Omega-3’s

best-sources-of-omega-3s

Omega-3s seem to be all over the place in the world of health-conscious people. They are known to benefit heart and brain health, help resolve inflammation, and even promote a healthy pregnancy. You will usually find them in stores as pure supplements, but they are also readily available in our diet.

Why are Omega-3s getting so much attention? Are there such things as “bad omega-3s”? Which foods are the highest sources of omega-3?

In this article, we give you the low-down on which foods are richest in Omega-3 fatty acids. First, however, we are going to review some of the basic information about Omega-3s, including what they are, where they come from, and how they benefit our health.

What are Omega-3s and Why Are They Important?

Omega-3s fatty acids (Omega-3s, for short) are a type of fat that is liquid at room temperature. These sorts of fats are called unsaturated fatty acids, and, more specifically, polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs).

Omega-3s are usually called essential fatty acids, which means our body cannot easily make them. Instead, we must get them from the food we eat.

There are three main types of Omega-3s for human health: ALA, EPA, and DHA.

Out of the three Omega-3’s above, EPA and DHA are the most crucial, and the health benefits of Omega-3’s are attributed to the metabolism of EPA and DHA within the body. ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) is found mostly in plant-based oils, while both EPA and DHA are found in most abundance in seafood and grass-fed meats (as discussed shortly).

Omega-3’s are critical because both EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) are used by the brain in consistent amounts, and thus we need a steady supply of it for normal neural function. Omega-3s are also important for cell structure, and they have key roles in keeping immune and hormone health.

The structures of EPA and DHA differ slightly; DHA has 22-carbon backbones and 6 double bonds at different positions, and EPA has a 20-carbon backbone and 5 double bonds and different positions.

Omega-3-structure

If you don’t have a strong biochemistry background, it is likely that the differing structures won’t mean much. As with all chemical structures, the structure of the component determines its function. EPA and DHA are metabolized by the body with high efficiency. ALA is converted into EPA and DHA in the body, but this process is slow and inefficient. Thus, the easiest way to obtain the health benefits of Omega-3’s is to consume foods that contain EPA and DHA.

Essentially, since we cannot produce Omega-3s in the body we if we want to increase the Omega-3s in our body, we need to consume more foods that contain Omega-3s, and specifically, foods that contain EPA and DHA.

What are the Health Benefits of Omega-3s?

There are three main benefits of Omega-3s for our health: they promote brain and neural health, they can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, and they can reduce inflammation in the body. We will discuss each of them briefly below.

Brain Health and Cognition

Omega-3s are beneficial for brain development of the child during a woman’s pregnancy and lactation periods as well as for the maintenance of brain health throughout life.

In women who supplemented with Omega-3 during pregnancy and lactation, their children showed to have enhanced problem-solving skills and hand-eye coordination when compared to children whose mothers did not supplement with Omega-3 (especially DHA and EPA).

In adults, some research shows that supplementation with Omega-3 slowed cognitive decline in people with mild cognitive dysfunction associated with Alzheimer’s Disease.

Heart Health

Omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA are shown to reduce the risk of heart disease and circulatory blockages. Consuming more EPA and DHA is linked to a decrease in gene expressions that are involved in heart-damaging pathways.

Another study showed that EPA and supplementation decreased the risk of experiencing a heart attack and other cardiovascular risk factors.

Inflammation

Inflammation is the cause of many chronic diseases. EPA and DHA are thought to have important roles in in reducing oxidative stress that leads to inflammation, thus improving cellular function and gene expression. Inflammatory markers, like C-reactive protein, are linked to an increased risk of chronic diseases, like cardiovascular disease. Studies have shown that supplementation with EPA and DHA significantly reduced some types of C-reactive protein.

Additionally, Omega-3s are metabolized into components called resolvins. Resolvins, in addition to being powerful anti-inflammatory elements, also have free radical-scavenging properties that may help to suppress tumor growth and cancer.

Best Sources of Omega-3 in the Diet

1. Fish

Pros:

Certain types of fish have the most Omega-3s of any other food in our diets. Cold water fish, like salmon, albacore tuna, trout, sardines, and warm-water fish like snapper, are the highest in EPA an DHA. Here are the approximate amounts of EPA and DHA per 150g serving:

  • salmon (fresh Atlantic or Australian): more than 500 mg
  • canned sardines: 1,500 mg
  • trout (fresh rainbow): 300–400 mg
  • gemfish: more than 500 mg
  • canned tuna: 300–500 mg
  • rainbow trout: 300–400 mg
  • barramundi, snapper, John Dory: 200–300 mg

Additionally, fish is very low in saturated fat, making it a “lean meat”. The American Diabetes Association recommends that you choose lean meats over meats higher in saturated fat, like “red meats”. In fact, the ADA recommends everyone consume fish at least twice a week.

Cons:

Because of the size and life-span of many of the types of fish highest in Omega-3, they also tend to be high in mercury. This is especially risky for pregnant women, since high levels of mercury exposure can lead to miscarriages and low birth weight.

2. Krill

Pros:

Krill are very small organisms that resemble small shrimp, but are actually zooplankton. They eat phytoplankton. Because of their size, they don’t accumulate mercury like fish do. It is difficult to find krill as such to prepare in your food, but you can find krill oil in capsules.

About 30-65 percent of krill’s fatty acids are stored as phospholipids, whereas fish oil is stored as another type of fat called triglycerides. Our body may be able to absorb phospholipids more easily than triglycerides.

Cons:

According to the study cited above, we may need more krill oil to get the same effect as taking fish oil or consuming fish.

3. Other Seafood

Pros:

Omega-3s are also found in other non-fish seafood, but in lower quantities. Some of the seafood highest in Omega-3s include:

  • Squid: 200-500 mg
  • Lobster- 200-500 mg
  • Crab: 100-500 mg
  • Scallops: less than 200 mg
  • Shrimp: less than 200 mg

Cons:

The foods mentioned above have a lower density of Omega-3s when compared to their fishy counterparts.

4. Grass-Fed Beef

Pros:

When compared to grain-fed beef, grass-fed beef is lower in overall fat content. This is beneficial for those looking to reduce saturated fat intake. Grass-fed beef is also higher in vitamin A.

Regarding Omega-3s, studies show that grass-fed cattle have an increase in Omega-3 fats and generally achieve a more favorable Omega-3 to Omega-6 ratio. However, cattle must be fed a pure grass diet to achieve these results.

Cons:

Studies show that, while omega-3 profiles in some grass-fed beef may be slightly higher, in general, people who consume grass-fed or grain-fed food have similar intakes of both Omega-3.

5. Chia and Flaxseed

Pros:

Chia and flaxseed and great options for vegetarians and vegans who aren’t getting Omega-3s from most of their foods in their diet. They are high in a type of Omega-3 fatty acid called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). In general, ALA provides some of the anti-inflammatory and benefits for heart health. To some extent, our bodies can convert ALA to EPA (about 8%).

Cons:

While our bodies can convert some ALA to EPA through enzymatic reactions, our cells have a much harder time converting it into DHA (between 0-4%). DHA is the Omega-3 fatty acid to which we attribute most benefits for brain health.

It is important to note, however, that the cells of people who follow vegan diets are likely more efficient at converting ALA in DHA. Even so, there is no evidence that a lower intake of DHA in vegetarians or vegans results in adverse health or cognitive function, suggesting that their bodies may be more efficient at converting ALA into DHA.

6. Algae

Pros:

Seaweed and algae are good sources of DHA that are comparable to fish sources. In fact, DHA from algal oil is accumulated more in the body than DHA from fish oil.

Algae and seaweed could be good alternatives for vegetarians and vegans to get enough DHA in their diet.

Cons:

Scientists who research the marine food chain have found that algae and seaweed also contain mercury.

Summary of Omega-3 Content in Selected Food Groups

Here is an in-depth list of the ALA, EPA, and DHA content in selected foods (info provided by the USDA):

Omega-3-Content-In-Food

Supplement Sources for Omega-3

If you feel you aren’t eating enough omega-3 food sources, you can take high-quality supplements. Supplements are equally effective to increase Omega-3 content in the blood and provide all of the health benefits of dietary Omega-3.

Not all Omega 3 sources are the same.

Fish oil

Fish oil is the most common omega-3 supplement. It is a natural source of both DHA and EPA. However, unfiltered fish oil could have mercury.

Algae oil

Algae oil is a good alternative for vegans and non-vegans alike. It is one of the only natural sources of vegan DHA.

Krill oil

Krill oil has several benefits over fish oil. Krill does not contain mercury, it resists oxidation to make sure you get the full amount of Omega-3 found on the label it is environmentally sustainable. You may have to take more krill oil than fish oil to get the same results, but this is a small change that you can make for the benefits.

Conclusion

The most important element to notice in the Omega-3 supplement you choose is the source of the omega-3s the supplement contains. Make sure most of the omega-3 oils are from both DHA and EPA, as these are much harder to come by than ALA in our diet. Additionally, regardless of the source, check to see if you supplement is free of hexanes, dioxins (check the ingredient label), and are filtered for mercury.

Still curious? Want to learn more about health and nutrition?

Go VIP (it’s free!) and receive exclusive content from the HealthSnap team about nutrition and health & fitness in general.

We Also Recommend

Image Credit: DHA and EPA structure by Tao Yi et al.

New Jersey Becomes The First State To Regulate PFNA In Drinking Water

Published Sept. 4 by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) in the New Jersey Safe Drinking Water Act rules, New Jersey became the first state to set a maximum contaminant level (MCL) for perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA) in drinking water. New Jersey’s new standard for PFNA in drinking water is 13 ppt. However, municipalities will be given anywhere from six to eighteen months, depending on their size, to reduce their PFNA exposure to comply with the new standard.

PFNA is a man-made chemical that falls under a class of synthetic compounds called Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). These are chemicals used in food production and packaging, textiles, and many other forms of manufacturing. Persistence of PFAS in the body and environment has been linked to adverse health effects in humans. Build-up of PFAS exposure may be related to high cholesterol, cancer, kidney disease, impaired immune function, pregnancy complications, and liver damage.

This ground-breaking act comes in response to an ongoing issue with PFNA contamination along the Delaware River. This contamination is largely resulting from previous releases of PFNA from a specialty polymer plant. Currently, 37 public New Jersey Water Systems fall above the new standard.

Additionally, in the new act, New Jersey has adopted a MCL for 1,2,3-trichloroproprane of 30 ppt. 1,2,3-trichloroproprane is another potentially harmful chemical that is released into the environment as a result of manufacturing practices.


Interested in knowing the quality of your water?

Consider our catalog of water quality test products for quick, easy, and affordable testing of your drinking water and groundwater. For questions, feel free to contact us at any time.

Still curious? Want to learn more about health and nutrition?

Go VIP (it’s free!) and receive exclusive content from the HealthSnap team about nutrition and health & fitness in general.

U.S. Senate Meets For The First Time To Discuss PFAS Contamination in Water

The Senate held its first-ever subcommittee hearing on Sept 26th to discuss the presence of perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in drinking water. Recent findings of toxic levels of these chemicals found in multiple sites across numerous states have led to this monumental hearing. Many community leaders feel decisive action must be taken by the Federal Government to ensure safe drinking water for our communities.

PFAS are synthetic chemicals manufactured and used in an abundance of industries across the world. PFAS have been used in the United States since the 1940’s and are found in products including food packaging machines and materials, water-repellent fabrics, teflon cookware, and chrome plating.

PFOA and PFOS, the most researched of these chemicals, have been found to persist in the environment and in the human body. Humans are exposed to PFAS in a variety of ways, most commonly from contaminated food and water sources. Unable to be break-down, they can build up over time. Evidence exists that the accumulation of PFAS can have many potential adverse human health effects, such as increased cholesterol, development of tumors, and liver or kidney damage.

Despite testimony from community representatives affected by contaminated water and eight senators, the US EPA is “not planning currently to update our drinking water and health advisories for PFOA and PFOS,” according to Peter Grevatt, on behalf of the Groundwater and Drinking Water division of the EPA.

Grevatt reports that the EPA is exploring designating PFAS as a hazardous substance, which would allow local governments to initiate clean-ups and reprimand polluters. However, this reclassification could take years to execute.

As for now, each state is left to take action on its own. Many have begun implementing different policies with Vermont making a statement by lowering its standard to 20 ppt for five PFAS compared to the EPA standard of 70 ppt.


Interested in knowing the quality of your water?

Consider our catalog of water quality test products for quick, easy, and affordable testing of your drinking water and groundwater. For questions, feel free to contact us at any time.

Still curious? Want to learn more about health and nutrition?

Go VIP (it’s free!) and receive exclusive content from the HealthSnap team about nutrition and health & fitness in general.

Safe Drinking Water: Contaminants and their Limits

Limits-of-Contaminants-in-Drinking-Water

Why is it Important to Monitor Drinking Water for Contaminants?

Drinking water is essential to life. In most part of the world, safety and accessibility of drinking water is a major concern, because it is vulnerable to contamination with what the World Health Organization categorizes as infectious agents, toxic chemicals, and radiological hazards. Thus, safe drinking water is defined as water lacking agents, chemicals, or hazards that are detrimental to our health.

In the United States, access to clean and safe drinking water is protected by the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), a federal law that ensures potable water is accessible throughout the country. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is the government entity responsible for setting the standards for quality drinking water.

The EPA distinguishes between “primary regulations” and “secondary regulations”. National Primary Drinking Water Regulations (NPDWRs) include a list of 80+ contaminants that must be monitored constantly based on Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCLs) to ensure drinking water sources are safe.

Additionally, the EPA has established secondary regulations, called National Secondary Drinking Water Regulations (NSDWRs). These measures are not mandatory, since they do not pose health risks, but they may have aesthetic effects, including odor, taste, and color, or may impact water tubing.

Common Drinking Water Contaminants

The Environmental Protection Agency has determined identified six different categories of contaminants: microorganisms, disinfectants, disinfection byproducts, inorganic chemicals, organic chemicals, and radionuclides. The complete EPA list contains almost 100 detectable primary and secondary water contaminants.

Below is a list of 14 of some of the most common or most troubling primary and secondary contaminants or analytes you can monitor to determine if water is safe to drink. For your ease of reference, we have organized the information in a table format, with the description of what is measured, the acceptable range, how the contaminant can get into your water, and potential health effects when the contaminant in drinking water is outside of the acceptable range.

Analyte or Contaminant Description Acceptable range Cause or Source Potential health effects when outside of the acceptable limit/range
Total alkalinity Alkalinity measures the ability of water to neutralize acids. Normal values are usually between 75% and 100% of the total hardness value. Alkalinity is usually directly associated with total hardness because calcium and magnesium (minerals that determine hardness in water) also determine alkalinity. There are no health issues associated with alkalinity.
pH pH measures the concentration of hydrogen ions in a solution or the acidity, neutrality, or alkalinity of your water. The lower the pH, the more acidic your water and, the more corrosive it will be. Typical pH levels are between 6.5-8.5. pH levels lower than 7 indicate that your water likely has higher levels of copper or lead, potentially from the household plumbing, and lower levels of minerals like calcium and magnesium. There is no health standard for pH, but water very low or very high pH levels typically will not taste very good.
Total Hardness Hardness is a measure of the amount of calcium and magnesium in your water. Values near 150 mg/L are generally ideal

 

Values less than 150 mg/L: soft water

 

Values greater than 200 mg/L: hard water

Hard water is caused by the ability of water to dissolve rocks that contain calcium magnesium over time. There are no health issues associated with hard water. In fact, both calcium and magnesium are important minerals for our diet. While our water usually doesn’t provide us with enough calcium and magnesium to meet our dietary needs, it is an issue in our drinking water because it can cause lime and soap scup buildup in your pipe system.
Bacteria – Coliform Coliform-type bacteria are bacteria (or micro-organisms) that are naturally found in surface of untreated water and in the soil. ABSENT. No coliform bacteria should be present for water to be acceptable for drinking. Presence of coliform bacteria might mean that there is a leak of untreated water or sewage into the water system due to a loose cap, casing issue, structural defects, or others. For well water, contamination with coliform bacteria is one of the greatest contaminant risks. Coliform bacteria do not usually cause illness, but they may indicate that other disease-causing bacteria are present. Water contaminated with bacteria, like E. coli, can cause serious gastrointestinal diseases.
Chlorine Chlorine is a disinfectant that is added to water to control levels of microorganisms. ≤4 mg/L The most common source of chlorine in drinking water is an additive used to control populations of microorganisms. Long-term exposure to drinking water high in chlorine can result in eye and nose irritation, stomach discomfort, and anemia.
Fluoride Fluoride is added to water intentionally in controlled amounts to promote strong teeth. ≤4 mg/L Fluoride can come from an additive intentionally added to water, erosion of natural fluoride deposits, or from discharge from fertilizer and aluminum factories. Controlled fluoride levels are important to promote strong teeth. Prolonged exposure to high fluoride levels in drinking water may result in bone disease, and mottled teeth in children.
Lead Lead typically enters potable water from pipes, e.g. when pipes that contain lead corrode, especially where the water has high acidity or low mineral content. ABSENT. Action must be taken if levels surpass 0.015 mg/L. Most lead in water comes from corrosion of household plumbing and corrosion of natural deposits. Infants and children exposed to high levels of lead in water and in the environment can experience delays in physical and mental development, learning disabilities and attention disorders.

 

Adults with prolonged exposure to lead can experience kidney problems and high blood pressure.

Copper Copper is a metal found in natural deposits in the earth. ≤1.3 mg/L Copper levels in drinking water may be due to corrosion of household plumbing systems, and erosion of natural copper deposits in the ground, soil, and rocks. Short-term exposure to copper may cause gastrointestinal issues. Long-term exposure to copper can cause liver or kidney damage. People with Wilson’s disease are particularly sensitive to copper levels.
Mercury (inorganic) Mercury is a liquid metal found in natural deposits. It is used in electrical products like dry-cell batteries, fluorescent light bulbs, and control equipment, among others. ≤0.002 mg/L Mercury in drinking water can come from erosion of natural deposits, discharge from refineries and factories, and runoff from agricultural land and landfills. Prolonged exposure or exposure in high amounts could lead to kidney damage.
Nitrate/Nitrite – Nitrogen Nitrate is a chemical commonly found in fertilizers and animal wastes. For Nitrate: ≤10 mg/L is accepted.

Less than 2 mg/L is preferred.

For Nitrite: ≤1 mg/L

High nitrate in water may mean that there is a leak of agricultural fertilizer, lawn fertilizer, manure, or other substances into the water source. Infants less than six months old who drink water with more than 10 mg/L of nitrate-nitrogen are at risk of being affected by the condition methemoglobinemia (also called blue baby disease) because nitrate can affect the ability of the body to transport oxygen. If not treated, this condition could be fatal. High nitrate water (over 10mg/L) may also be linked to birth defects and miscarriages.
Bromate  Bromate forms when the disinfectant, ozone, reacts with naturally-occurring bromide in the water.  ABSENT. 0 mg/L. Bromate can result from uncontrolled drinking water disinfection. Prolonged exposure or exposure in high quantities can result in an increased risk of cancer; liver, kidney, or central nervous system problems.
Cyanide (as free cyanide) Cyanide is a chemical unit composed of carbon-nitrogen and many organic and inorganic compounds. It is mainly used to make compounds, synthetic fibers, and resins. ≤0.2 mg/L Sources of cyanide in the water can include discharge from steel/metal, plastic, and fertilizer factories. Prolonged exposure or exposure in high quantities can result in nerve damage or thyroid problems.
Chromium Chromium is a metallic element found naturally in rocks, plants and soil. One form of chromium (Chromium-3) is essential in the human diet. ≤0.1 Chromium in water can come from discharge from steel and pulp mills, and/or erosion of natural deposits of chromium in the earth. Prolonged exposure or exposure in high quantities can result in allergic dermatitis.
Arsenic Arsenic is a toxic chemical found naturally in deposits the soil, rocks, and free minerals. Drinking water should not contain any arsenic, but a maximum of 0.010 mg/L is accepted. If there is arsenic present in water, potential sources could include: erosion of natural deposits of arsenic in the ground, runoff from fruit orchards and electronics production wastes. High-dose or prolonged exposure to arsenic could result in skin damage, problems with the circulatory system, and cancer.

Total dissolved solids (TDS)

 

 

 

TDS is the sum of all of the inorganic salts (e.g. sodium, calcium, and magnesium ions), both soluble and insoluble, and organic matter in a liquid.

 

≤500 mg/L (or ppm) TDS content in drinking water can come from natural and man-made sources. Man-made sources include urban run-off, sewage, industrial wastewater sources, water piping, and agricultural runoff. Natural sources include salt deposits, seawater intrusion, and carbonate deposits.

 

 

Increased levels of total dissolved concentration (TDS) are not typically a health hazard. But, high TDS levels may present nuisance and aesthetic problems (e.g. distaste).

 

Table information sources: UWSP and EPA

A comprehensive chart of all of the contaminants (both regulated and unregulated) can also be found here.

Who is Responsible for Monitoring Water Safety?

In the United States, the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) enforces your right to access safe drinking water at your home and in public safely and freely. The EPA is responsible for enforcing the contaminant limits by supporting local efforts and sources of water supply at wastewater treatment plants, which are either run by municipal governments or private entities.

Each year, the EPA provides funding and tools to states to ensure programs, like underground injection control and regulation compliance, are effectively carried out.

How Can I Monitor my Water at My Home or Business?

If you want to make sure that the drinking water that reaches your home or business is safe to drink, you can carry out your own monitoring activities. This could either be because you are wary of local compliance or worried about any contamination taking place in your home.

Here are two ways you can monitor water quality in your home:

Test Strips and Digital Meters

healthsnap-water-test-stripsTest strips are an easy and budget-friendly way to monitor water safety and get immediate results. At-home test strips, like our HealthSnap Test Strips, will test the levels of 10 contaminants and analytes, including fluoride, lead, copper, pH, Chlorine, Nitrite, and more. Digital meters, like our hand-held HealthSnap 3-in-1 TDS, EC, and Temperature meter, also present an economical and precise way to monitor water quality.

The advantage of test strips is that they are easy to use and understand. After either submerging the test strip in a water sample or dripping a sample of water to the strips with a dropper, the test strip will change color within 30 seconds. You can then compare the color result on the test strip to the color chart provided (on the box, bottle, and/or instructions that come with the test strips), so you can determine whether your tap water or pool water is within safe levels. Digital meters are also easy to use and there is a wide range of digital water quality meters available on the market (depending on the type of product, digital meters can measure either single or multiple parameters in water).

Third-Party Testing

If you are looking for high numerical accuracy, you can contract a third-party company to evaluate your water supply. You can contact private companies to take a sample of water on site, or you can send a sample of water to them to analyze. You can tell them exactly what you want them to analyze or request a comprehensive report. Costs are usually given per-analysis and can vary between $10.00-$40.00 per contaminant on the low end, and up to the hundreds (and even thousands) for high-quality in-depth lab analyses.

For analysis of your water by an EPA certified lab, simply browse the “Contact Information for Certification Programs and Certified Laboratories for Drinking Water” provided by the EPA.

Some contaminants are not regulated by the EPA. To have your water checked for these contaminants, you can view the EPA list of approved companies for testing unregulated contaminants.

Conclusion

Safe drinking water is essential for life, and access to it is your right. This article provides you with important information regarding the definition of safe drinking water, primary and secondary contaminants to monitor, and who is responsible for monitoring safe drinking water gets to your home and business.

However, contaminants may take place inside your home as well, or you might be wary of the effectiveness of local water treatment plants. That is why we also provide you with information on how to take control of monitoring your water so you can be confident that your water is safe and clean.

Still curious? Want to learn more about health, water quality, and nutrition?

Go VIP (it’s free!) and receive exclusive content from the HealthSnap team about nutrition and health & fitness in general.

We Also Recommend

What Causes Leaky Gut?

What-Causes-Leaky-Gut

What Causes Leaky Gut?

Leaky gut syndrome has recently received significant attention in the health world. It has been a hot topic of debate among researchers, doctors, nutritionists and dieticians, regarding what it is, how to treat it, and whether it actually even exists.

Over the past ten years or so, most health practitioners have come to a consensus that leaky gut syndrome (known by different names) is, indeed a serious health problem that may be affecting hundreds of thousands of people. The problem is, however, that since they are still in the process of understanding how and why it occurs, there are still significant gaps of knowledge regarding the best ways to treat it.

To help you see through the confusion, in this article we will review the basics of leaky gut syndrome and what causes it. We will discuss how to prevent and treat leaky gut in separate articles.

An Introduction to “The Gut”

Digestive-System

We often talk about “the gut” when we refer to what lies below the skin in the softer stomach area of the body. The official term is the gastrointestinal tract.  The gastrointestinal tract is a group of connected, hollow organs through which the foods we eat move and are digested. It is made up of the esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, rectum, and anus.

The gastrointestinal tract is part of the digestive system, which also includes other organs that produce juices that are important for digesting food. These include the liver, the gallbladder, the pancreas, and the appendix.

A very thin layer of cells that cover the surface of the intestine, called the epithelium, is responsible for absorbing nutrients into the body from the intestinal tract. It is also important for keeping the body protected from potentially harmful substances, or simply for keeping the body separate from the external environment.

A healthy epithelium is selective in what it lets through to the body. It absorbs nutrients, electrolytes and water through many pathways, and gets them to all of our cells and organs to keep them working in a healthy manner. At the same time, the epithelium acts as a barrier to keep out toxins, bacteria, and other elements that might cause infection or illness. It also keeps out fiber, but fiber feeds the healthy bacteria in our gut and forms part of the “bulk” in our stool, which will soon make its way out of the digestive system with other substances that can’t be absorbed.

Of course, if the health or structure of the epithelial barrier is compromised, it is possible that it can no longer be as selective to the entrance of different substances, making way for what is popularly known as a “leaky gut”.

What is Leaky Gut Syndrome?

Another name for leaky gut syndrome is increased intestinal permeability, and this is probably the best way to talk to your doctor about it. Over the past decade or so, researchers have recognized that the barrier function of the intestine can be disrupted by a range of factors, which we will discuss below. This can lead to inflammatory diseases and immune system disfunction, among other issues.

When intestinal cells, groups of cells, or bonds between the cells are damaged, microscopic holes are formed in the intestinal barrier. Here, potentially harmful substances can get through, like bacteria or bacterial fragments, incompletely digested proteins, toxic substances, or waste products. In a healthy intestine, all of these things would be removed from the body in our stool and urine, but when there are “leaks” in our gut, many of these things can get through.

If these pathogens get through our gut, our immune system responds immediately. Sometimes, however, if the leak is big enough or persistent enough, our immune cells are unable to take appropriate control of the situation, and this can cause large-scale inflammation.

What’s more is that undigested proteins and other molecules which penetrate through the “leaky” gut barrier can often closely resemble the proteins and compounds found in our very cells and tissues. However, these foreign proteins and molecules are just slightly different enough to cause our immune cells to recognize them and mark them for destruction. The problem with this is that now our immune cells are primed and ready to recognize and attack these foreign proteins and molecules, which also happen to closely resemble our own proteins and molecules. This leads to immune cell attack and antibody production against these foreign proteins and molecules. But since these are similar to our own proteins and molecules, this also then leads to an attack on our own proteins and molecules, thus paving the way for the development of autoimmune complications.

7 Causes of Leaky Gut

In some people, leaky gut develops quickly, and in others it develops over several years.

Most of the elements that cause leaky gut are lifestyle factors. In some cases, the relationships between lifestyle choices and leaky gut are not what you might imagine. Below are 7 potential causes of leaky gut syndrome.

1) Diet and Food

Certain dietary patterns are suspected to promote leaky gut syndrome. These include foods with gluten, like breads and wheat tortillas, grains like rice and spelty, soy, dairy, and refined sugar.  This means that, in order to preserve intestinal health, stay away from bread, especially white bread and processed foods, milk and yogurt, and others.

2) Stress

Light or intermittent stress is normal. As humans a reasonable amount of stress helps us stay focused and driven, while also helping us adapt to new situations. Health problems arise when the stress is no longer transient, and instead is here to stay. This sort of stress is known as chronic stress. While stress should only be “felt” in our mind, it connects to other parts of our body, like our gut, as well. The relationship between our gut and our brain has a name – known as the “gut-brain axis”.

What happens in our gut can affect our brain (think about how constipation can make us feel irritable), but what happens in our brain can also affect our gut. Chronic stress can affect the environment of our intestine, killing off “good” bacteria and promoting the growth of resistance “bad” bacteria. The change in environment together with the disbalance in bacteria can make the gut more permeable to potentially pathogenic elements.

3) Alcohol

Drinking copious amounts of alcohol on a regular basis can damage the intestine in a number of ways. It can damage the bonds between intestinal cells, which can create the holes in the intestinal lining that cause leaky gut syndrome. It can also promote the accumulation of substances that increase the permeability of the intestine.

4) No Sleep

Alterations in sleep patterns can also disrupt the gut microbiome (the population of bacteria in the intestine), thus, damaging the intestinal lining. Fragments of bacteria then pass through the barrier and attempt to enter the circulatory system. The immune system responds, causing inflammation and changes in metabolism, including insulin sensitivity.

5) Gut dysbiosis

As we’ve mentioned above, a disbalance in healthy bacteria in the intestine can also cause leaky gut. Healthy bacteria is important because it fights off pathogenic bacteria, and because it helps our bodies to digest certain substances, and in the production of some nutrients, like vitamin K.

Our healthy gut bacteria population can be altered by many of the previously mentioned causes, but also as a result of illness or of taking antibiotics. When the population of healthy bacteria in our intestine is no longer in balanced, it is known as “gut dysbiosis”.

6) Toxin overload

Toxins are elements that are damaging to our cells and organs. They either result of a biological process or they come from the environment (in this case, from the food we eat). Usually, our body tries to get rid of these toxins through excretion, but when there are too many, they can cause damage before our body can remove them.

Toxins can come from the “wrong” bacteria in the gut, from food additives, improper digestion, gut inflammation, infections, and others. If we already have leaky gut, it is more likely that we will have a greater toxin concentration in our gut, thus creating a vicious cycle.

Regularly eating processed foods that contain additives may also contribute to toxin overload.

7) Too much exercise

Regularly exercise in reasonable amounts has numerous benefits for your health. When we don’t exercise regularly for long periods of time, we are at risk of illness, stress, and chronic diseases. However, too much of a good thing also has health consequences. Too much intense physical activity can cause hormonal distress, immune suppression, and leaky gut.

Conclusion

For several centuries, the idea of having a “leaky gut” (though by different names) was only present in traditional medicine models. Modern medicine is now recognizing how lifestyle factors can damage the intestine, and, as a result, affect its ability to act as a barrier between the outside and inside of the body.

It is important to note that there are several factors that can increase your risk of leaky gut syndrome, usually it is not attributed to one specific factor, but rather several occurring at the same time. For example, if you aren’t getting enough sleep, it is likely that you are under a lot of stress and not eating very well. Each factor individually will not necessarily result in leaky gut, but all three factors occurring at the same time for several months or years can certainly influence your risk of experiencing leaky gut.

Still curious? Want to learn more about health and nutrition?

Go VIP (it’s free!) and receive exclusive content from the HealthSnap team about nutrition and health & fitness in general.

Protein Intake for Strength Training

Protein-Intake-Strength-Training

Protein Intake for Strength Training

An undeniable fact about strength training is that your muscles need protein to repair themselves and grow. It doesn’t matter whether you’re currently cutting weight, trying to bulk up, or cruising in maintenance mode; you’re still going to need adequate protein intake.

But just how much protein intake for strength training do you really need?

It seems like everywhere you turn for advice, you’ll get a different answer. So in order to simplify things for you, we’ve created this quick one-stop reference guide that you can consult to find out exactly how many grams of protein you should be aiming for on a daily basis.

The Importance of Protein

Most people think of muscle growth and repair when they think of protein. The truth is that protein is important for every single cell in your body. Not only does it help to build and repair muscle tissue, it also helps your body to make the hormones and enzymes it requires to function properly.

Unlike fats and carbohydrates, your body doesn’t store protein to draw from when it needs a new supply. What this means for strength training is that you need to be vigilant in ensuring that each and every day you are consuming enough protein to help you achieve your fitness goals.

Nutrient Timing

When involved with strength training, it’s particularly important to pay attention to your nutrient timing — especially when it comes to protein. Your biggest, and most protein-dense meal, should be consumed within a few hours of your workout.

With that being said, it’s a good idea to take some form of protein immediately post-workout, usually in the form of a protein drink. There are a couple of key reasons for this.

The first is that since muscle protein synthesis is already elevated from your workout, when combined with the consumption of amino acids found in protein, you’ll be able to encourage more muscle growth.

The second reason is to purposely spike your insulin levels in order to send the amino acids and glucose into your muscle tissue. Insulin will also help to prevent further muscle tissue breakdown and reduce exercise-induced stress. (1)

Aside from these two meals, the remainder of your meals should be spread evenly throughout the day when following a strength training program.

Calculate Your Protein Intake Based On Goals

Before we can dive into the nitty-gritty and provide exact recommendations concerning protein intake, you’re going to have to first figure out exactly what your strength training goals are.

I would imagine that the majority of our readers are currently either bulking up to gain mass or trying to cut weight to shed some fat. If you’re already completely satisfied with your physique and just going off maintenance — then you probably don’t need this guide to begin with!

Going with the base assumption that you’re either bulking or cutting, you’re obviously going to have different caloric requirements. From personal experience, I’d recommend sticking with either a caloric deficit or surplus of between 300-500 calories depending on your goals and/or your training intensity and frequency.

How Much You Need 

When it comes to strength training, a good general rule of thumb to follow for protein intake is for men to aim for 2g/kg while women should go for 1.2g/kg of body weight. For very intense strength training (e.g., on the Olympic level), it is recommended that you increase your protein intake to ~4g/kg of body weight.

If you are also trying to build mass and bulk, in addition to strength, one important thing to keep in mind is that it isn’t just about protein intake — you need to cover all of your macronutrient bases as well…

If you’re trying to gain weight, you’re going to need both protein and carbs to grow. A minimum of 40% of your total caloric intake should be coming from quality carb sources. (2) For your remaining macro split, I would recommend focusing on 25% coming from lean protein sources and the remaining 15% coming from a mixture of high-quality fats.

When it comes to cutting weight, it’s generally a good idea to lower the amount of carbs that you’re consuming while increasing the amount of protein and fat. In that case, I would recommend going with 40% of your daily calories as protein, with another 40% from quality fats, and the remaining 20% as carbs.

Guide to Protein Sources

The type of protein that you’re consuming definitely matters. That’s true even beyond avoiding the obvious unhealthy sources of protein like processed meats. Let’s take a quick look at some common protein sources to compare them.

Animal vs. Plant Protein

I generally prefer to opt for animal sources of protein over plant-based sources. The reason being is that plant proteins are considered to be ‘incomplete’, as they lack the amino acids that help to optimize muscle protein synthesis. There’s also the fact that soy protein can actually hinder your strength training goals, as it can actually lower testosterone and decrease muscle strength (due to its estrogenic nature).

Whey Protein

In general, liquid proteins are a better option than solid ones due to the fact they absorb quicker. Among liquid protein options, I would recommend either whey isolate or whey concentrate. The reason being is that whey contains branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) that make sure your insulin is maximally stimulated. There are also many other great health benefits to be gained from using whey, making it an ideal choice.

Bioavailability Index

Another reason why I prefer whey protein is because it ranks the highest on the bioavailability index. This ranks the amount of protein absorbed that can actually be used by your system. Whey isolate and whey concentrate each have a score over 100, while plant-based options all rank under 75. (3)

Conclusion

If you’re going to be participating in any kind of serious strength training program, then it’s essential that you provide your body with an adequate amount of protein to help your muscles recover and grow. However, it’s equally important to pay attention to your other macros as well! Don’t neglect your carbs and healthy fats either — success in the gym comes from both a well-structured routine and a well-balanced diet plan. However, also remember that individualization is key. Certain populations do better strength training and gaining mass when on a lower carb protocol (e.g. insulin resistant individuals).

If you aren’t experiencing the gains you desire, try altering your protein/carb ratio.

Sources: 

  1. https://www.strengthsensei.com/post-workout-protein-a-closer-look/
  2. https://www.strengthsensei.com/protein-intake-strength-mass/
  3. https://dioxyme.com/protein-absorption/

Still curious? Want to learn more about health and nutrition?

Go VIP (it’s free!) and receive exclusive content from the HealthSnap team about nutrition and health & fitness in general.

The Health Benefits of Omega-3’s

Health-benefits-omega-3

In the past 50 years or so, fat has gotten a pretty bad rap. People assume that fat causes heart disease, weight gain, and a host of other issues. However, this is simply not true. Fat is actually quite healthy, and among the healthiest of fats are Omega-3 fatty acids. These fatty acids are incredibly important, and an essential component of a healthy diet. This article will discuss what exactly these important acids are, and why these are so important throughout the human body.

What Are Omega-3 Fatty Acids?

Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fatty acids that are found in a variety of different plant and animal-based foods that are essential for basic human health. There are three types of Omega-3 fatty acids, Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA).

EPAs and DHAs are generally found in fish, and are oftentimes referred to as “marine” or “seafood’ omega-3’s. ALAs are found more broadly in a diet, including plant-based oils, nuts and seeds, in some leafy vegetables, and as well as in animals that have been grass fed.

Why Are Omega-3 Fatty Acids Important and Why Are They Essential?

Omega-3 fatty acids are considered essential because they can’t be made by the body, and the body needs these fatty acids for optimal functioning. Instead, the only way to get these incredibly important nutrients is directly through the diet.

Health Benefits of Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Heart Health

In the past few decades, heart health has been a main topic of conversation between many patients and doctors, and for good reason. Heart disease, and many related conditions including high blood pressure, heart attacks, and strokes have been on the rise for the past few decades, and what diets are including- and missing- play a major role in these ailments.

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for heart health. Studies and anecdotal evidence have for a long time suggested that those who have diets that are high in omega-3 fatty acids are at a lower risk of mortality from heart-related conditions, have lower blood pressure and heart rate, and have healthier blood vessels, even though these diets may be higher in fat overall than average. (1)

Healthy Skin

Most people love to spend time out in the sun, and there are definite benefits from getting some Vitamin D from enjoying a couple of rays. However, excess UV radiation can cause problems for the skin- ranging from wrinkles and sunspots to the much more extreme basal cell carcinoma, and at the worst, melanoma. Omega-3 fatty acids can help to fight inflammation caused by sun damage and may help prevent skin cancers from developing. There is also suggestions that omega-3 fatty acids can help to reduce the localized inflammation caused by acne, leading to quicker healing time and decreased redness. (2)

Eye Health

Most people assume that Vitamin A and carrots are what’s necessary to keep eyes healthy. However, omega-3’s also play an important role. Research has shown that omega-3 fatty acids can help prevent macular degeneration and dry eyes. They are what helps protect against a condition known as retinal angiogenesis, which occurs when new, excessive blood vessels form throughout the eye. (3)

Healthy Pregnancy

As soon as a woman becomes pregnant, and even when she is still trying to conceive, there are so many suggestions and guidelines about how to change her diet to best help her and her baby be as healthy as possible. There are many studies and research that suggests that omega-3 fatty acids are incredibly important for fetal development and the mother’s health. These fatty acids can help the mother conceive by increasing fertility, keep the baby growing healthy by increasing birth weight and decreasing premature births, and can lower the risk of delivery complications. Deficiency in omega-3 DHA’s during pregnancy have been shown to result in poorly developed neurons and synaptic connections. (4)

Healthy Menstrual Cycles

Pain, cramping, and bloating are among some of the symptoms that women experience during their monthly menstrual cycle. Studies have shown that increasing omega-3 fatty acids can help to decrease instances of menstrual pain. Additionally, one study has even suggested that omega-3 fatty acids can be better at reducing uterine inflammation and pain than ibuprofen. (5)

Brain Health and Mental Health

As we age, it becomes critical to take extra care to protect our brain health. Unfortunately, Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia are quickly becoming prevalent in many of the elderly, and early onset cases are becoming more common. Those who are regularly consuming the recommended amount of Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to have a larger brain size than those who are deficient in this valuable fatty acid. A smaller brain size in adults is a determination of premature aging and memory loss. More importantly, the anti-inflammatory effects of omega-3’s can help prevent the onset of brain complications. (6)

While nothing can truly reverse memory loss, consumption of omega-3 fatty acids can help to aid in the reversal of minor memory loss. Studies have also suggested that combining fish oil supplements or increasing omega-3 fatty acid consumption in other ways may help to lower incidences of mild depression and anxiety. Of course, it is always important to avoid self-medication without consulting a doctor first, particularly if an individual is taking prescription medications for depression or anxiety, as it is important not to cause a negative reactions with supplements and prescription medications.

Inflammation

Inflammation is responsible for some of the most common ailments that affect the human body, including high blood pressure, heart disease, Crohn’s disease and Ulcerative Colitis, diabetes, asthma and COPD, Rheumatoid Arthritis, as well as a host of other conditions. Recent studies also suggest that inflammation may play a role in the development of cancerous tumors by producing changes in the individual cell DNA.

Omega-3 Fatty acids play an important role in the reduction of inflammation throughout the body. Omega-3’s are metabolized in the body into potent anti-inflammatory molecules called resolvins and protectins. These molecules help reduce and eliminate inflammation by eliminating pro-inflammatory signaling molecules from chronic inflammation that result from 1) disease, 2) immune system dysregulation or dysfunction, 3) chronic stress, 4) allergens or microbes, and/or 5) injury. (7)

Sleep

Unless part of the 3% of people who are consistently able to function on less than 5 hours of sleep a night, most people need at least 7 to 8 hours of sleep to be able to feel fully rested and at their best. Low levels of omega-3 fatty acids can lead to poor sleep patterns and can increase stress hormones, which in turn makes it more difficult to fall and stay asleep. Without enough sleep at night, you are more prone to disease, obesity, and chances are you won’t be very pleasant to be around. (8)

Good Sources of Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are found in some very specific foods. Fish, particularly fatty species such as salmon, tuna, and sardines, are perhaps some of the most common ways to consume omega-3 fatty acids and have the highest levels of omega-3 fatty acids per serving. You can also consume fish oil supplements that provide your daily needed amount of this fatty acid.

Additionally, grass-fed beef is another source of omega-3 fatty acids, and you may find that you prefer the taste of beef that is grass fed. Finally, there are also fortified foods, such as milk, eggs, and other foods, that contain omega-3 fatty acids when they normally would not (although we don’t recommend these; it is much better to get your omega-3’s from natural sources like wild-caught fish and grass-fed beef).

What About Omega-6 Fatty Acids?

Now that you are familiar with omega-3 fatty acids, you may be curious about omega-6 fatty acids as well, as these two are often discussed together. While Omega-6s are important for certain cellular functions, they are much more common in the diets of Americans as they are present in a wider variety of foods compared to omega-3’s so the pressure to ensure that you are consuming enough in your diet is not as high. More importantly, omega-6’s are processed into pro-inflammatory molecules in the body. As a result, while necessary in small quantities for cellular health, these fatty acids are considered pro-inflammatory and excess consumption should be avoided.

Still curious? Want to learn more about health and nutrition?

Go VIP (it’s free!) and receive exclusive content from the HealthSnap team about nutrition and health & fitness in general.

What is Leaky Gut?

Leaky-Gut-1

Recent discoveries in nutritional science show that dysfunction of the digestive system plays a significant role in the spread of disease. Research involving the GI tract, and particularly the gut biome, is now the most studied area of nutrition and biology.

Although there is a myriad of research on the subject, digestive disorders such as “leaky gut” are still not recognized officially by the medical community. This adverse digestive condition presents uncomfortable symptoms that are often brushed off by people living with the disorder.

Here is a brief guide to understanding leaky gut, its symptoms, and how to treat it. (1)

What Is Leaky Gut?

The GI tract covers over 40,000 square feet and is home to trillions of live bacteria known as the gut microbiome. When working as intended, the intestinal wall forms a tight barrier controlling the release of nutrients into the bloodstream.

While it is perfectly normal for the gut to leak a little, there are health risks involved when the intestinal wall is severely compromised. This occurs when intestinal inflammation is chronically elevated, hence the digestive disorder is known as “leaky gut”.

Leaky gut creates uncomfortable gastrointestinal, skeletal, and neurological symptoms in the human body. These symptoms may be confused with other digestive issues such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), or gluten and lactose intolerance.

Changes in gut biome health occur as a result of a leaky gut and research shows that this issue could play a significant role in the development of several other chronic diseases. (2)

What Does Leaky Gut Affect?

The advanced intestinal permeability that results from leaky gut is responsible for developing gastrointestinal conditions such as Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, and IBS. Along with these diseases, there is convincing research that shows that disorders of the digestive tract may be responsible for the development of autoimmune conditions such as acne, fibromyalgia, allergies, asthma, and obesity.

What Causes Leaky Gut?

Aside from some people who may have a genetic predisposition to sensitive adjustments in the GI tract, the main culprits of a leaky gut are a sedentary lifestyle, chronic stress, and inflammatory and immunogenic foods.

You are what you eat. Diets that consist of poor food choices can cause high levels of inflammation to develop in the gut. Furthermore, certain foods are immunogenic and can act to destroy the gut barrier and cause the immune system to activate. The gut houses the largest concentration of immune cells in the body since it is the only place, aside from the lungs, where the outside world comes into contact with the “inside world”, and since the gut contains trillions of bacteria. Hence, immune cells need to be primed and ready to prevent bacteria and foreign invaders from entering into the bloodstream from the gut.

Foods that are inflammatory or immunogenic can increase intestinal barrier permeability. Here are three primary food sources associated with the development of leaky gut…

Wheat, Barley, Rye and Other Foods Containing Gluten

Gliadin is a gluten protein found in grains such as wheat, barley, and rye. Studies show that some people may have an allergy to gluten known as celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity.

Eating gluten-based foods increases intestinal permeability which can lead to symptoms of a leaky gut. Research suggests that gluten will degrade in the GI tract to form substances known as exorphins. These compounds act as a natural painkiller and mask the damaging effect of the intestinal wall lining.

Even non-gluten containing grains can increase intestinal permeability. Grains, in general, can contain saponins or lectins. Saponins are molecules that effectively “punch holes” in the gut. Lectins are molecules that look exactly like our own bodies proteins (e.g. tissue proteins) and are transmitted intact and undigested into the bloodstream, setting up the stage for autoimmune issues.

Trans Fat

Trans fat is another culprit of leaky gut syndrome. Trans fat increases oxidative stress and permeability of the intestinal wall.

Food Additives

Food additives also play a significant role in the degradation of the gut membrane. Glucose, emulsifiers, and other preservatives have been linked to the increased permeability of the intestinal wall as well. Nanoparticles such as microbial transglutaminase and nanoparticles breach the junctional complex. (3)

How is Leaky Gut Diagnosed?

If you are showing signs of a leaky gut, visit your doctor’s office for an official diagnosis. Blood work and an antigenic permeability test may be necessary to determine if leaky gut has led to other chronic illnesses of the digestive system.

Zonulin Test

A zonulin test is the most effective means of identifying leaky gut syndrome. Zonulin is a specific protein which controls the opening and contraction of the tight junctions in the small intestine. We require these openings for the transport of nutrients and zonulin regulates their function.

Zonulin tests are a useful marker for understanding intestinal health and function. An enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay test (ELISA) is used to determine zonulin function. If zonulin is present in the serum, this may indicate that the gut barrier has been compromised. (4)

Leaky Gut Symptoms

The early stages of gastrointestinal stress, due to a leaky gut, are mild and often disregarded.

As the degradation of the intestinal wall progresses, symptoms escalate in both variety and intensity. Reduction of intestinal surface area reduces nutrient absorption and creates micronutrient deficiencies in vitamins and minerals. Nutrient deficiencies manifest in different GI tract and health disorders.

Some of the gastrointestinal symptoms you may experience as a result of a leaky gut are:

  • Bloating
  • Abdominal pain.
  • Constipation or diarrhea.
  • Gas, nausea, and vomiting.
  • Acid reflux, heartburn, and belching.

Leaky gut also affects the skin. If you have any of the following dermatological disorders, you may be living with a leaky gut.

  • Dry skin, psoriasis, or eczema.
  • Acne, rashes, or hives.

Neurological disorders may develop from a leaky gut. These include:

  • Brain fog.
  • Fatigue.
  • Anxiety and depression.
  • Insomnia.
  • ADHD.

Can Leaky Gut Be Dangerous to Health?

Random particles that pass through the intestinal barrier into the blood set off an aggressive immune response. Unfortunately, this event causes systemic inflammation in all biological systems within the body. (5)

The primary danger of leaky gut syndrome is chronic inflammation. This stressful condition prevents the body from naturally healing itself. Systemic inflammation creates the perfect biological environment for the development of other chronic diseases.

Diseases Linked to Leaky Gut

A leaky gut presents uncomfortable symptoms. If left undiagnosed and untreated, the condition could result in the development of other chronic diseases. Here are a few of the adverse health conditions that might develop as a result of an untreated leaky gut.

Increased intestinal permeability has links to a vast variety of chronic diseases including the following:

  • Chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Celiac disease
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Ulcerative colitis
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Diabetes
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Chronic inflammation

The medical community is divided on the subject of chronic disease manifesting from a leaky gut. Medical professionals are unsure if leaky gut causes these diseases, or the diseases cause leaky gut.

How to Heal and Recover from Leaky Gut

It’s possible to repair and heal a leaky gut. It takes time, patience, and consistency to experience a full recovery back to normal digestive health.

Heal Your Gut

The first step to rehabilitating your GI tract is a visit to your local health professional. Try to visit a specialist; they will have a more complete understanding of GI disorders than your regular M.D.

Your doctor will draw blood and submit it for testing to diagnose your condition. The diagnosis will also show any mineral and vitamin deficiencies, and you can begin to plan your recovery diet with the results.

Experiment with Different Dietary Principles

Plan a new diet based on paleo or ketogenic principles. Both of these diets avoid refined carbohydrates. If the thought of abandoning carbs scares you, then opt for the paleo diet over the ketogenic diet. The paleo diet requires the majority of daily calories to come from protein and healthy fats, with limited carbs coming from vegetables and fresh fruits.

The ketogenic diet focuses on healthy fats for 90% of daily caloric consumption, with very little protein and hardly any carbs. Choose the diet that suits your lifestyle and plan your meals for the week. You might struggle to calculate the right macronutrient percentages and calorie goals correctly, in this case, visit a nutritionist.

Supplementation

A nutritionist will analyze your blood work results and plan a diet for you that consists of foods and supplements to heal your gut. Your new diet should include fermented foods, such as sauerkraut and kimchi, which are excellent sources of prebiotic fiber for gut biomes.

Reduce Stress

Reduce stress in your life wherever you can and start a beginner exercise program. Hire a personal trainer to help you build an exercise program and stay consistent with your training. Revisit your doctor after 6 months on your new diet and exercise program. Repeat the testing process and have your doctor analyze the results.

The results of your second test should show significant improvement in the health of your digestive system. Take the results to your nutritionist and have them adjust your diet to keep your progress moving along. Keep a journal of your road to recovery and include all of your medical history, diet changes, and workouts.

Still curious? Want to learn more about health and nutrition?

Go VIP (it’s free!) and receive exclusive content from the HealthSnap team about nutrition and health & fitness in general.

Sources:

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26760399
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4253991/
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2898551/
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3458511/
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4036413/

The Health Benefits of Kale

Have you ever tried kale? Kale is a superfood that offers a host of health benefits, and it deserves a place at anyone’s table. It is highly nutritious and is a great source of dietary fiber.

Here is everything you need to know about kale and why you should add it to your meal plan.

Health-Benefits-of-Kale

What is Kale?

Kale comes from the family of cruciferous vegetables, well known for their cancer-fighting properties. This crucifer is most closely related to the Acephala group of the species Brassica oleracea (oleracea var). Kale is already a popular health food, consumed in a variety of different ways. History shows that the ancient Romans and people of the Middle Ages included kale in their diet.

There are two main types of kale: one that has purple leaves and one that has green. The central leaves never form a head, which is why kale is thought to be more akin to wild cabbage than other domesticated types of vegetables such as spinach.

Kale is classified by leaf type:

  • Plain.
  • Curly, also known as Scots kale.
  • Leaf and spear, a hybrid of curly and plain varieties.
  • Cavolo nero, also known as dinosaur kale or black cabbage.

The most common variety of kale that you will find on the shelf of your local health food store is curly kale. This variety has curly, green leaves with a tough, fibrous stem. (1)

Kale Nutrition Facts

One cup of uncooked kale (2.4 ounces or about 65 grams) contains:

  • 33 calories, (2 of which are fiber), 3 grams of protein and 6 grams of carbs.
  • Vitamin C: 134% of the RDA.
  • Vitamin A: 206% of the RDA
  • Vitamin K: 684% of RDA.
  • Vitamin B6: 10% of RDA.
  • Manganese: 25% of RDA.
  • Copper: 10% of RDA.
  • Calcium: 9% of RDA.
  • Magnesium: 6% of RDA.
  • Potassium: 9% of the RDA.

Kale contains more than 3% of the RDA for Vitamin B1/Thiamin, Vitamin B2/Riboflavin, Vitamin B3/Niacin, phosphorus and iron. The fat found in kale comes from omega 3 fatty acids called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Kale has a low-calorie count per serving and yet it is still considered one of the most nutritious foods around. (2)

Healthy Compounds in Kale

Regularly consuming kale in your diet will have a dramatic impact on your health. The broad range of antioxidants found in this dark leafed crucifer has anti-viral, anti-inflammatory, and anti-microbial properties.

Kale is rich in the antioxidant quercetin, used to treat the common cold. The carotenoids Zeaxanthin and Lutein concentrate in the eye, preventing optic disorders such as cataract and macular degeneration.

Kale also contains large amounts of the carotenoid, beta-carotene, as well as various polyphenols and flavonoids. The antioxidant compounds reduce the presence of free-radicals in the blood. Free radicals are responsible for oxidative cell degeneration and death. Kale keeps the wrinkles out of your face and smile.

The flavonoids kaempferol and quercetin, are found in substantial amounts in kale. Nutritional science has extensively studied these compounds. Research shows that these substances have protective properties for every biological system in the body. (3)

4 Health Benefits of Kale

#1: Kale has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.

The most beneficial property of consuming kale in your diet is its anti-inflammatory ability. With an ideal omega-3 to omega-6 ratio, kale is kind to your GI tract. The omega-6-rich processed foods found in the modern diet cause a chronic inflammatory response on a widespread scale across all biological systems in the body. Recent research in nutritional science shows that almost every disease known to man is linked to inflammation, from Crohn’s disease to rheumatoid arthritis, and cancer. Kale contains high amounts of anti-oxidant compounds that go to work in reducing inflammation and fight off free-radicals. (4)

#2: Kale promotes a healthy cardiovascular system.

Eating more kale will make your heart happy. The dark colors of the kale leaf suggest that it is nutrient dense and rich in vitamins and minerals. The combination of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties improve lipid balance. Bad LDL cholesterol lowers and the production of good, heart-friendly, HDL improves. The antioxidants also lower total lipid levels in the blood, reducing the risk of heart disease. (5)

#3: Kale has detoxification properties.

Kale is a natural detoxifier. This cruciferous vegetable is high in fiber and sweeps your GI tract clean. The soluble fiber found in kale removes any undigested food, toxins, and impurities from the digestive tract.

The isothiocyanate compounds (ITCs) found in kale, come from glucosinolates which help detox your liver at a cellular level. Toxins in our environment from, pesticides, pollutants, and pharmaceuticals, increase toxicity levels in the body, increasing the chances of contracting a disease. ITCs fight off toxins and assist in the removal of free-radicals. (6)

#4: Kale may help assist in the prevention of cancer.

The high-levels of antioxidants in kale can assist in the prevention of cancer. The cancer-fighting properties of cruciferous vegetables The immune-enhancing benefits of kale are a result of several compounds like indoles including indole-3-carbinol (I3C), di-indolemethane (DIM), and isothiocyanates, derived from glucosinolates. (7)

Kale for Paleo and Ketogenic Diets

Kale is a perfect fit for both the paleo and ketogenic diet. The cruciferous vegetable offers a nutrient-dense source of vitamins and minerals that keep the metabolism and immune system optimized at all times.

However, it is very important to understand the source of your kale. Deal only with sustainable farms that offer organic produce, guaranteed to be free from pesticides and other chemicals. When you purchase your kale, give it a thorough wash under running water to remove any organic residue.

Since kale is a crop grown in low-temperatures and it develops a delicious sweet taste in frosty climates. The freshest kale is found at farmers’ markets in the late fall and early winter time. Kale is also easy to grow and if you have space at home, why not plant a row of it?

What’s the Best Way to Eat Kale?

Cruciferous vegetables do not digest well when consumed raw. Kale is no different; it requires cooking to release the antioxidant compounds and break down the goitrogens. Goitrogens are linked to the excessive overgrowth of the thyroid gland. However, it should be noted that one would have to consume enormous amounts of raw kale to experience any adverse health effect from goitrogens.

It’s best to boil kale for three minutes before serving it. Cooking kale this way will not diminish the bioavailability of the valuable antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. However, the brief cooking time will break down over 90% of the goitrogens and make your kale safe to eat. (8)

Potential Drawbacks of Consuming Kale

A popular breakfast health trend is the power green smoothie, made of kale. As we have mentioned, it’s a bad idea to consume cruciferous vegetables in their raw form. Therefore, it might be best to back off of the morning power smoothie or replace kale with another ingredient.

The goitrogens found in kale can be hazardous to your health when ingested in large amounts. Goitrogens can inhibit the conversion of iodine into thyroid hormone, a process that can’t be reversed.

Raw kale contains oxalic acid, which binds with minerals such as magnesium and calcium, causing crystallization. The crystals can damage tissue and create inflammation, leading to adverse health disorders such as kidney stones.

Some animals can handle a high oxalate intake in their diets because they typically have a genetic adaptation to eating kale, as well as help from bacteria to diminish the oxalate. However, most people living a western lifestyle do not have these bacteria in their gut. This means that consuming significantly large portions of cruciferous vegetables that are rich in oxalate, could land you a series of visits to the hospital for dialysis. (9)

Toss the kale shake and cook your crucifers to ensure the optimal absorption of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.

Still curious? Want to learn more about health and nutrition?

Go VIP (it’s free!) and receive exclusive content from the HealthSnap team about nutrition and health & fitness in general.

References/Sources

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27028789
  2. http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/vegetables-and-vegetable-products/2461/2
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22744944
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5084045/
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18548846
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4499388/
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12094621
  8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26593594
  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3153292/

Debunking Fat & Cholesterol Myths

Cholesterol-and-Fat-1

For decades, fat and cholesterol have been demonized as culprits for cardiovascular disease and obesity albeit for no good reason as there is no good scientific evidence to support these claims. Only recently has the mainstream science and nutrition community started to recognize that fat isn’t the issue. Instead, as researchers are finding, an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and obesity is more closely linked to the consumption of processed foods, higher intake of carbohydrates, as well as poor lifestyle choices. Let’s take a closer look!

Fat & Cholesterol – What Are They Exactly?

When talking about fat and cholesterol, we tend to lump the two together and think of them interchangeably. However, fat and cholesterol are very different. Fat is a macronutrient. Macronutrients are the nutrients we need in high amounts in our diets. They provide energy, often displayed in the form of “calories” on food labels. Fats are hydrocarbons, meaning they contain hydrogen and carbon components. The hydrocarbon chains that fats are comprised of determine their function and help differentiate between the supposed “good” and “bad” kinds of fats, unsaturated and saturated fat, respectively. The difference between saturated and unsaturated fats has to do with the difference in saturation of hydrogen atoms. Unsaturated fats contain a double bond, meaning they have fewer hydrogen atoms attached to the carbon atoms.1 Saturated fats contain no double bonds.

Cholesterol, on the other hand, is an organic sterol, which is a waxy, lipid substance. 25% comes from our diet, and the liver makes the other 75%.2 Cholesterol, unlike fat, does not provide energy to the body. There are two types of cholesterol, LDL, and HDL. LDL, or low-density lipoproteins, are often referred to as the “bad” cholesterol. HDL, or high-density lipoproteins, is considered to be the “good” cholesterol. HDL is considered “good” because it helps clear excess LDL from the bloodstream, sending it back to the liver to be broken down and excreted. As a side note, it is important to understand that LDL and HDL are not actually “cholesterol”. They are the proteins in the body that carry around cholesterol.

Despite the common belief that we should eliminate fat and cholesterol from our diets, we need to consume these in our diets for regular functioning and body processes. Fats protect your organs, provide energy, aid in hormone production, and help in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, such as vitamin A and K. Cholesterol is responsible for the production of sex hormones, building certain tissues throughout the body, and helping in the production of bile in the liver.3 It is also necessary for vitamin synthesis, cellular integrity and hormone synthesis. In fact, certain diseases, such as Smith-Lemli-Opitz Syndrome, where cholesterol cannot be synthesized properly leads to serious issues such as autism and reduced muscle.

Dietary Saturated Fat – Why the bad rap?

In the 20th century, heart disease became an epidemic amongst the American population. Statistics showed that it was the number 1 cause of death. Researchers made a correlation between the high consumption of saturated fat and heart disease because saturated fats were found, in the short-term, to be associated with increased total cholesterol. The problem(s)? There was no solid scientific evidence to back up these claims. The studies and evidence presented were based on animal trials and general assumptions. Experiments were never well controlled in these studies, and researchers never accounted for confounding factors. There was also no evidence from human studies to back up this saturated fat/heart disease hypothesis.

More specifically, researchers also failed to recognize that total “cholesterol” is a flawed marker of heart disease, because total cholesterol includes both “bad” LDL cholesterol, and “good” HDL cholesterol.

What researchers actually found is that, in the short term, saturated fat increases both HDL and LDL cholesterol, and HDL is associated with a lower risk of heart disease.

In reality, there is no such thing as “good” or “bad” cholesterol. You need both HDL and LDL for proper physiological function (LDL is good, and actually helps bring cholesterol into the cells and helps to maintain cellular fluidity). The only time cholesterol is “bad” is when it ends up in the wrong places. Under the influence of inflammation and other factors, this can result in plaque buildup in arterial walls, causing blockages and wreaking havoc on the cardiovascular system. More importantly, it turns out that the type of cholesterol that increases the risk of developing arterial plaques is small sized, dense, LDL particles, in high numbers. The reason for this is that smaller sized LDL particles have a higher chance of being absorbed in the arterial wall becoming oxidized, which is a critical step in the development of atherosclerosis. Larger LDL particles are less susceptible to arterial wall penetration and oxidation. Furthermore, the larger the number of these smaller particles, the higher the chances of these processes occurring.

Interestingly, researchers have found that in the short-term, saturated fat consumption actually helps convert small LDL particles to larger particles.4,5,6 Researchers have actually found that low-carb diets, high in saturated fats, can reduce the risk of heart disease significantly due to the favourable cholesterol profiles obtained following these diets; fewer numbers of small LDL particles, and higher numbers of large LDL and HDL particles.7,8 Low-fat diets do NOT reduce the amount of small LDL particles, and actually, have been shown to result in an unfavorable lipid profile (high small LDL, low HDL, and increase triglycerides).9,10 

There are a few large studies (systemic reviews and meta-analyses) that take an in-depth look into all of the data obtained to date on observational studies and controlled trials about saturated fat and heart disease. Here are there conclusions:

  1. A meta-analysis of prospective epidemiologic studies showed that there is no significant evidence for concluding that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of CHD or CVD. More data are needed to elucidate whether CVD risks are likely to be influenced by the specific nutrients used to replace saturated fat.11
  2. Current evidence does not clearly support cardiovascular guidelines that encourage high consumption of polyunsaturated fatty acids and low consumption of total saturated fats.12

Perhaps most importantly, a recent scientific study from 2017 explored macronutrients and their relationship to mortality and cardiovascular disease from 18 countries in 5 different continents. They concluded the following:

“High carbohydrate intake was associated with higher risk of total mortality, whereas total fat and individual types of fat were related to lower total mortality. Total fat and types of fat were not associated with cardiovascular disease, myocardial infarction, or cardiovascular disease mortality, whereas saturated fat had an inverse association with stroke. Global dietary guidelines should be reconsidered in light of these findings.”13

Dietary Cholesterol

We’ve already covered why cholesterol is good, and identified that the only time cholesterol is potentially “bad” is when you have an increased number of small-sized LDL particles. Even in these scenarios, this doesn’t mean you will get heart disease, but that you are increasing your risk of heart disease. In fact, cholesterol-lowering therapies do not lower risk of cardiovascular disease.14 Heart disease is a complex phenomenon, and researchers are finding out that it is driven by a variety of factors, including inflammatory and autoimmune factors, as well as genetic and epigenetic factors.

But what about the cholesterol in our diet? Does this impact our cholesterol levels?

It turns out that dietary cholesterol actually has no impact on our blood cholesterol levels. Only a small portion of the cholesterol from our diet actually gets absorbed into the body. Furthermore, when our bodies sense low levels of cholesterol, they ramp up cholesterol synthesis to make up for the lack of cholesterol. In fact, avoidance of dietary cholesterol can result in malnutrition, due to the reduced consumption of healthy foods that also happen to contain cholesterol, and even increased risk of heart attacks.15,16

The most important factors for achieving ffavourableblood cholesterol profiles appear to be of epigenetic origin, and include: 1) decreasing the amount of dietary carbohydrates, 2) elimintation of processed foods, 3) avoidance of inflammatory foods, 4) positive lifestyle choices (like increased exercise frequency).17,18,19,20

Genetics or hereditary factors also play a role in blood cholesterol profiles. The liver is a key player in cholesterol homeostasis and LDL and HDL production, and individuals with genetic conditions that affect the liver are more susceptible to cholesterol issues.21

The Bottom Line

Cholesterol and fat do a whole lot of good for our bodies. Without them, we would have many problems functioning properly. Don’t believe everything you read. Do your research and stay educated about what foods you are putting in your body!

Still curious? Want to learn more about health and nutrition?

Go VIP (it’s free!) and receive exclusive content from the HealthSnap team about nutrition and health & fitness in general.