Vitamin K2 Might Just be the Holy Grail for Your Heart
The two scourges of modern civilization, osteoporosis, and coronary artery disease. They seem to have skyrocketed together over the last 100 years, concurrently with our remarkable extension of life span. Are we getting more of these two wicked demons just because we are living longer, or has something changed in our environment? Maybe a little bit of both?
Or maybe our world changed. After World War II, virtually every meat producer in America moved their animals off of pastures onto feedlots. Animals that eat grass make Vitamin K2 in their gut from the K1 found in green leaves. There is no K1 in corn and beans. We don't have any measurements from before, but the resultant change is likely hugely significant, probably in part because even with grass-raised animals in our food chain, our prior K2 intake was just barely sufficient, and not enough to be "therapeutic". There is a vast difference between recommended minimum daily requirement and optimal therapeutic requirement.
One of the most common questions I get is "How can I reverse my coronary artery calcium score?" or "How can I fix my osteoporosis?" So, when I come across a story in which an inventive engineer with severe left main calcification completely reversed his calcification with Vitamin K2, I have to pay attention.
Pat Theut, a paper engineer from Up-North, Wisconsin, found severe coronary calcium on an executive physical at the Mayo Clinic. He tried the traditional role of statins and AHA-type advice to no avail. So, he struck out on his own and started reading. Over the next few years, he came up with his own program, centered around much higher doses of K2 (and including regular K1 as well) and reversed his coronary artery disease. Reversed. Gone. Nada. Fixed. And in the process, gave the high dose of Vitamin K2 to his aunt only to see her osteoporosis go away.
K2 activates matrix GLA protein in your arteries. It also activates osteocalcin, the key calcium binder in your bones. Matrix GLA protein binds calcium and pulls it out of your arteries. In fact, there are now emerging studies from Europe showing the more K vitamins you consume, the lower your rate of coronary calcium and coronary artery disease.
The literature is extensive. Even the obverse now seems clear. Take warfarin to prevent blood clots, (a Vitamin K2 antagonist) and observe your arteries turning into rigid, calcified stone.
The implied effect is that the amount of calcium in your arteries predicts the risk of coronary artery disease. And that is true. You don't need an expensive catheterization and its potential risks. You just need a 64-slice CT scanner and 5 minutes. A score of 0 has "0" risk for heart attacks. A score of 400 is dangerous. Getting rid of the calcium starts with Vitamin K2, at least 5 times what is currently available by standard supplement providers. With that in hand, Pat Theut started a company called Koncentrated K at www.k-vitamins.com and will sell you just that: 500 mcg of MK7 and 25 mg of MK4 in addition of 5000 mcg of K1. You can't take warfarin with that as the K1 will promptly reverse the blood thinning effect. Read his "Story" and his "Cardiac Manifesto". It's more than just K2. Weight loss, exercise, stress management, and sleep all matter too.
www.What will Work for me? I have been touting the benefit of K2 for 10 years now and feel vindicated by this remarkable anecdote. He is just one person but he emboldens me to push this harder. We have not been successful at reliably reversing osteoporosis or coronary calcium with Super K. It has just 100 mcg of MK7. Not enough. I've even made my own natto so that I can get the benefit of K2 from natural sources (natto is the highest food source of K2) but its flavor is tough to enjoy unless you are born and bred Japanese. But I'm now officially changing my advice for anyone on K2. You are not getting enough with 100 mcg a day. That may meet RDA-type standards, but it is not therapeutic. We are all in a deep, physiologic mess and need MORE. Thank you, Pat Theut.
1. Vitamin K1 and K2 are really, just the same. T or F? Answer: Related to some degree but with a completely different side chain, have completely different physiological targets. That is how nature works. Once it finds a working vitamin or hormone, it builds on that base and branches out over time with different effects.
2. If you block K1 with warfarin, what is your chest X-ray likely to look like after about 5 years? Answer: That's easy. You can see every artery in your entire chest outlined in calcium. I've been in the ER for 25 years and have seen it 100s of times.
3. Where is our food source of K2? Answer: It is made in the gut of animals that eat grass.
4. How much of the normal American diet is based on grass-raised meat? Answer: It must be in the low single digits.
5. This column suggests we need more K2. How much? Answer: Probably 500% more. 5 times. Right. You read it here. Give Pat Theut a high-five after you have read every word of his personal story. Consider that your informed consent.
Create More Happiness - Channel Your Inner Finn
Ok, ok, not everyone in Wisconsin came from Germany...there have been boatloads of Swedes, Italians, Ukrainians, Poles, Norwegians, and Finns too. But when we hear that Finland just landed "the happiest country in the world" for the fifth year in a row, you might be tempted to ask just what it is that they do. Is our "Finnish" heritage part of why Wisconsin is considered such a welcoming place? Add to their internal happiness, their immigrants end up being the happiest of any immigrants. Something is working right in Finland.
In pursuit of that answer, ask Finland's premier happiness researcher, Frank Martela, just what it is that Finns do to make their country and themselves happy. Here is the list recently published on CNBC.
1. “Kell’ onni on, se onnen kätkeköön.” In English, it means: Don’t compare or brag about your happiness. What that translates into in everyday life in Finland is less showy displays of possessions. You can't tell a millionaire by their clothes or their car. They might be on the bus with you. They certainly won't brag about the neighborhood they live in. Finland has enough lakes and shorelines for just about everyone to live close to water and next to nature. So, you don't have to boast about your place "up north". Finland, after all, is up north.
What that really means is to set your own standards of happiness that you can achieve and be content with who you are. Don't compare yourself to others. You are good enough. And can you help your friends feel the same way? Encourage them to be enough just as they are. Make it infectious.
2. Get close to nature and savor it. Surveys show that 87% of Finns think nature is particularly important. Getting outdoors and taking the 4 weeks of summer holiday that most Finns get away from cities is highly prized. But a walk will do in the park, even in January. Grow a plant indoors. If you can't grow anything, get a bird feeder. Just notice and enjoy the natural world we live in.
3. Do what you can to increase public trust. Research shows the higher the level of public trust in a society, the happier everyone is. Practice absolute honesty in everything you do. Consider courtesy as your operating system. Drive with kindness and tolerance in your heart. Don't judge the people around you with your first impressions. Practice trusting their goodwill. Let the other guy into your lane. Let the other person go through the door first. Wait your turn in line with patience. Notice how it makes you feel part of the larger whole.
Do you know what happens when you lose a wallet in Finland? You get it back over 90% of the time, with the money in it (11 of 12). (Best of 16 cities studied). Mumbai, India came in at 9/12. New York was only 8/12. Presume goodwill when you speak to the beleaguered customer service person on the phone. Go ahead, be kind, and see if you don't get what you wanted more often. And mostly what you want is a sense of trust and relationship with everyone you meet. Public trust. Nurture it. It's good for all of us.
www.What will Work for me. I've had a lost computer returned to me at Chicago's train station. I remember that as acutely as the time I was mugged in college (The mugger returned my wallet, empty but for my student ID). You know what happened me when I found myself late at night on the train station in St Louis, with only two large, obvious maintenance men there with me, and I didn't have the change to get the train ticket? One of the men gave me a dollar in change. How I wish I had his name. Opportunities to create public trust come up all the time. Be prepared in your heart to give a minute, give a dollar, speak up in kindness, show deference...you will be happier.
1. The happiest countries in the world have the lowest taxes? T or F. Answer: Not asked and not studied, but it could be noted that the highest-taxed countries in Europe are all in the top happiest places to live.
2. Can you think of three ways you can participate in increasing public trust?
3. Can you think of ways that you can feel ok about the choices you make to spend time with your family or friends?
4. What can you do to enjoy nature as we roll through the coldest and darkest days of the year?
5. Will you really be happier in an expensive car?
Diagnose Autism with a Hair Sample
Want to know if your one-year-old child might develop autism with 81% accuracy? That's the test currently being fast-tracked with the FDA. Since we typically don't diagnose autism until age 3-5, knowing your risks ahead of time might allow preventative or interventional efforts to be taken. That's new and meaningful.
Developed first in Japan and Sweden, a 1 cm stretch of hair was removed from 220 Japanese 1-month-old children and stripped of its outer lining. Three years later the 100,000 children included in the survey were randomly narrowed to a 220-child study for follow-up to assess for features of autism. The hair samples were then measured by mass spectrometry at 650 points looking for a variety of substances, including toxic heavy metals like aluminum, arsenic, lead, and cadmium as well as normal nutrients like zinc and copper. The study designers used machine learning and statistical analysis to narrow down the risk features. This method is like Goodenowe's discovery of plasmalogens: that measured everything by mass spectrometry and then parsed out responsible biochemical features. You can imagine the amazing detail when you conceive of 650 measurements in 1 cm of hair!
81% accuracy! That is huge. 75 % of children were correctly given the all-clear. And to do so 3 years before clinical diagnosis gives a window of opportunity to make changes. Of course, 81% isn't perfect, so "larger studies" are needed, but this justifies a 2,000-child study that has now been started.
What's the read on this? The authors state that their "prediction" is based on proprietary measurements of 567 separate features that showed statistically valid variability. They aren't exactly revealing just what it was they measured. It's only a teaser to say they measured heavy metals, copper, and zinc. (560 others not revealed to us). That suggests a broad dysregulation of biochemistry. Their test will likely be marketed by a company for future medical use.
We do know that population studies looking at A1 milk predict autism with spooky reliability. The 7 amino acid fragment in A1 milk is biologically active on themorphine receptor in the brain and is found to be about 1.6 times higher in children with autism. Wisconsin cows, mainly Holsteins are all A1. Brown cows are A2, as is goat milk and human milk
We also know that copper is higher in autistic kids, and drops with zinc therapy. With 90% of American homes made with copper pipes, copper is a new chemical in our environment. It drives zinc lower, and zinc is the. most important mineral in the brain. This same dynamic has play in Alzheimer's which burst onto the American medical scene only after the introduction of copper pipes.
What this all means is there is likely no single entity that can claim causation with autism, but rather a broad shift of metabolic dysregulation. That fits precisely with the plasmalogen hypothesis that we entertained last week. Plasmalogens are the antioxidant of first resort. When there is inflammation in the gut, and the immune system is broadly activated, inflammatory markers and cytokines are everywhere. The brain becomes inflamed and there are not enough plasmalogens to tip the balance back to normal.....and white matter becomes irrevocably damaged.
Just like in Bredesen's approach to Alzheimer's, children with autism probably need a multimodal approach to repair: avoid wheat, avoid A1 milk/dairy, add Vitamin D, add K2, add zinc, nurture the gut......add plasmalogens. If that were all started after a positive predictive test, perhaps we would reverse this awful trend.
www.What Will Work for me. This is the functional medicine approach to autism in a nutshell. The anecdotal news that autism is significantly helped with plasmalogens gives out a hint that we need to turn off the raging fire in the autistic brain, and then pull out the burning embers one by one: (repair copper), remove A1 dairy, remove wheat, repair gut....more and more plasmalogens. Send the kid to school and catch up when her/his precious brain starts to work.
1. How many measurements are made in this study on 1 cm (0.4 inches) of hair from a 1-year-old baby? Answer: 650
2. What is a mass spectrometer? Answer: No fair, you didn't mention that. Well, it is a machine that can measure precisely every molecule present in a sample by vaporizing it and weighing it with electronic wizardry. You will have thousands of ingredients, some of which shouldn't be there. And you will get some read about how much of each. Nifty technology.
3. This study showed how many ingredients in hair are off kilter with abnormal measurements in autistically prone kids? Answer: Some 560 (Which we are not told about. The study only showed the results. Coy. Obviously planning to market their proprietary results.)
4. Average age of diagnosis of autism in the USA is? Answer: Age 4
5. If you had a positive test in your 1 year old infant, what would you do? Answer: Add plasmalogen supplements, measure zinc and copper and balance them with appropriate levels, chelate out heavy metals, avoid A1 dairy, avoid wheat, get better probiotics and prebiotics into the food chain, Vitamin D and K2, fish oil....... breastfeed some more if still possible. Maybe all children should be on this trajectory and avoid the test. Maybe get a reverse osmosis filter in your house.
Autism May Be a Plasmalogen Deficiency Syndrome
Autism is one of the most devastating diagnoses for a growing child, and for the involved family. Its increase has been a puzzle of monumental proportions with few clues to date. Its incidence continues to increase dramatically. (6.7/1000 in 2000 and now 23/1000 - just 20 years later).
It is not an infectious disease. No evidence there. It is not caused by trauma. It is not racially or genetically based that we can tell. (To date). What is it?
What we do know are some incontrovertible facts about food and nutrition. In the last 100 years we have altered our diet with massive shifts in micronutrients. Many of those changes involve the nutrients needed to make proper levels of neurotransmitters and neuro-lipids, otherwise known as plasmalogens. When we had grass-raised animals, we got omega-3 fats in our food chain. Now, all our animals are raised on corn and beans and our intake of omega-three fats has dropped precipitously. You can't make a plasmalogen molecule without the omega three fatty acid called DHA
Our sugar intake has skyrocketed. Sugar shifts our metabolism to inflammation and crowds out other vital nutrients. The proportion of our food made up of ultra-processed food (packaging using many unrecognizable ingredients to sustain shelf life, flavor, color) has also skyrocketed. There is now clear evidence in adults that ingestion of ultra-processed foods results in cognitive decline. Could autism be the result of a lousy ecosytem of food in pregnancy and early childhood? That's what this author believes.
What we do know is that fetuses can't make plasmalogens and depend on them from their mother. The ability to manufacture plasmalogens prenatally only starts about week 30 of pregnancy. The central nervous system is growing rapidly and the demand soars at birth in the neonatal brain. Trillions of axons and synapses have to be manufactured for a newborn brain to start working. The content of plasmalogen lipids in synapses is about 70%, meaning there is a massive demand for that specific nutrient at birth. Each synapse and axon is composed of plasmalogen lipids. Breast milk, particularly colostrum, is a very rich source of plasmalogen lipids. Infant formula has none. And indeed, here is our first clue. Breastfed children have less autism. In fact, meta-analyses of breast feeding studies show, "more breastfeeding, less autism".
Is there other evidence? Well, yes. MRI studies of autistic kids suggest that their brains have a dramatically reduced quality and quantity of white matter. That's the part of the brain composed of all the axons, the wires and links between nerve cells. That is a direct indication of plasmalogen deficiency. We also know that if you experimentally deprive rats of plasmalogens, baby rats are born with all sorts of cognitive trouble.
The link that is still missing are studies that show improvement in clinical status of children with autism when they are given plasmalogen lipids, or in mothers who take plasmalogens as supplements when they are pregnant. But we do have a report of intriguing evidence that children with RDCP (severe genetic plasmalogen deficiency) get better with plasmalogen supplementation.
We also know that autism is highly correlated with brain inflammation. And this may be the Achilles heel that drives autism. Plasmalogens have a vinyl ether bond that helps battle inflammation. That, however, then depletes the plasmalogen molecule. That would then become a feed-forward, self-sustaining loop that continues to promulgate ongoing deficiency and never-ending inflammation.
But this is simple. We know our food chain has altered and deprived us of critical building blocks like fish oil and Vitamin D. Fish oil is a critical component of plasmalogen lipids. Without it, your body can't make plasmalogens. Without adequate B12, choline, folate, and Vitamin D we are in worse shape. Without plasmalogens, a baby can't hook up their growing brain to all the connections that need to be made. Once deficient, the inflamed brain can't repair itself, and the ongoing deficiency becomes self-sustaining.
www.What will Work for me. All the pieces of the puzzle are there, but for a randomized, placebo-controlled trial. But plasmalogens are just food. No toxicity, no side effects, critically important, and currently Missing In Action. Proper research and proof require randomized, placebo-controlled trials that take years. I believe there is an ethical constraint that prevents careless research when there are concerns about toxicity and drugs that are foreign to humans. But here we are talking about food and simple nutrients with no toxicity....what on earth are we waiting for? If I had an autistic family member, I would be buying plasmalogen supplements and trying it out. The risk-benefit ratio is too favorable to ignore. (Along with Vitamin D, B12, folate, choline, fish oil.......)
1. What is a plasmalogen lipid? Answer: the super-fluid, super-fragile membrane lipid that makes up some 70% of the brain's synapses and axons (links and wires).
2. What do MRI scans of children with autism show? Answer: damaged white matter that correlates with severity of symptoms.
3. Can we take plasmalogen supplements safely? Answer: Yes. That's like asking if you can eat eggs safely. (Eggs are loaded with choline, a critical component of plasmalogens)
4. Can I just buy plasmalogens off the internet? Answer: Well, not quite. You get plasmalogens whenever you eat any animal food. They get digested. Dayan Goodenowe, a brilliant biochemist, has discovered a method of manufacturing plasmalogen precursors that survive your gut and get into your bloodstream and thereby raising your plasmalogen levels. That's the scientific advance of which we can now take advantage. www.Prodrome.com
5. Is this proven to be safe and effective? Answer: No, not proven. Just a glimmer of hope and we need randomized, placebo-controlled trials to prove it.
How Making Memory Works - Silent Synapses
Sitting down to a Holiday Dinner with your family? What a memorable event! Want to make sure you remember it? You need filopodia, or silent synapses. This MIT study has just unpacked a huge mystery, how we learn and keep those memories.
Your brain has some 600 trillion - 4 quadrillion synapses, links between neurons. Each neuron is like a computer chip, connected to some 3,500 -4,000 other neurons by long, slender wires called axons with a synaptic endplate. That synapse is where the electrical impulse that travels down the axon is converted into a chemical message through neurotransmitters that are secreted in little packets into the space between the two neurons called the synaptic cleft. We now know that plasmalogen lipids make up some 70% of the membranes of the synapse. Plasmalogen lipids are the only membrane lipids that can shape-shift, allowing the vesicles filled with neurotransmitter to merge with the endplate of the synapse and disgorge their contents into the synaptic cleft. That's how neurons work. Memories are composed of complex webs of neurons utilizing thousands of synapses between them.
This column reported earlier this year on a study from Yale where a novel imaging technique demonstrated that the density of synapses correlates with cognitive function. This validates Goodenowe's research that shows the loss of plasmalogens is predictive of cognitive decline and mortality. You lose plasmalogens, you lose synapses. Your brain shrinks. You lose memories. We call that Alzheimer's.
What's the reverse? How do we make memories? Ah! That's what this study showed. In mouse brains, using a novel method of examining one synapse at a time, the researchers at MIT were able to approximate that roughly a third of synapses (in mouse brains) are actually immature, "filopodia" that are not yet active. They are just out there, waiting to be activated. They already have NDMA receptors in them, but not AMPA receptors. For a synapse to work, it must have both. They start as tiny little branches called dendrites off of axons that are everywhere in the brain in great numbers, as much as 30% of the brain content. You don't want a mature synapse to be altered by new inputs because you want old memories to stay preserved. But you do want a new memory to make a link, and then to be reinforced and made more durable on exposures. That's exactly what this model allows. Very elegant.
www.What will Work for me. This study explains the means and methods of how memory can be built and maintained. The adage, "Learn something new every day" makes sense when you see it in the context of keeping your brain making new memories and reinforcing those immature, early links into more mature, secure links. And to do that, it has to have means and mechanisms for making those links. The primary building blocks are sufficient plasmalogens to build the membranes and sufficient methylation capacity to manufacture neurotransmitters and pump them down axons. That's B12, B6, and folate. The Bs. And finally, you need choline, choline, choline. Eggs and liver. And then you have to have the willingness to expose yourself to the new event. Push yourself to do something new. It's the number one attribute of "super-agers".
1. What is a synapse? Answer: The link between two nerve cells.
2. How many do you have? Answer: Between 0.6-4.0 quadrillion. Lots
3. What are synapses composed of? Answer: Their walls of made of plasmalogen lipids and inside they have packets (vesicles) of neurotransmitter.
4. What is a filopodia? Answer: A tiny, immature branch off an axon with partial formation for a synapse, waiting for a new memory to be formed and for it to be activated.
5. What percentage of synapses of mouse brains are made of filopodia? Answer: Some 30%
Watch the Youtube video: https://youtu.be/coaWbDwrTXo
Understanding "Ultra-processing" of Our Food
Now that we know that 80% of us eat at least 20% of our food in "ultra-processed form", which increases the rate of cognitive decline by 25%, it becomes incumbent on us to learn how we can change that. We need to understand processing and what that means. This new construct has emerged in the last decade and is now gaining momentum. Instead of focusing on individual ingredients like protein, fat, and carbs, we look at the whole product and how it has been altered from the original ingredients used to make it. What is processing?
Start with that. Unprocessed food is picked by you from the tree, or dug up from the garden. Then you eat it as is. The vegetable aisle at the grocery store will do. Minimal processing is the simplest next step. Remove the inedible parts. With grains, knock off the hull. With apples, cut out the seeds in the core and the stem.
Secondary processing includes grinding up a grain into a powder we call flour and then baking it. You might include freezing, but then there are those who will argue that freshly frozen vegetables capture their peak nutrient value, so freezing isn't so bad for vegetables. But popsicles? Fermentation adds wonderful probiotic effects but is also on the secondary processing spectrum. Frying vegetables? Now you are cooking at high heat and adding fat to the food.
The third stage turns the grains into edible products. Baking, frying, microwaving....and all those raise new questions. What used to be three groups has now been made into four.
The NOVA classification now groups foods into those four categories. The third category, processed foods, were defined as “Generally produced to be consumed as part of meals or dishes or may be used together with ultra-processed products to replace food-based freshly prepared dishes and meals.” Typical foods described for this category were canned or bottled vegetables and legumes preserved in brine; peeled or sliced fruits preserved in syrup; canned whole or pieces of fish preserved in oil; salted nuts; unreconstituted processed meats such as ham, ham bacon, and smoked fish; and cheese. (Sounds a lot like what we eat every day.)
There there is category 4, "ultra-processed." Even Category 4 has evolved over the last decade through 4 stages. Stage 1: The first definition alludes mainly to the use of both food additives and salt in food products. Stage 2: The second introduces the putative impact of ultra-processed foods on accessibility, convenience, and palatability of ultra-processed foods. Subsequently, the definitions become longer and include more elements. Stage 3: The third definition built on previous definitions but introduced 2 new angles. One is the nonavailability of ingredients used in ultra-processed foods from retail outlets such as supermarkets, and the second introduces food additives as the most widely used ingredients, in numerical terms, in the manufacture of ultra-processed foods.
The next definition now introduces the role of food fortification as a defining element of ultra-processed foods. Further definitions introduce new elements such as the importance of foods synthesized in a laboratory, based on organic materials such as oil- and coal-based additives and flavoring compounds, a specification for the minimal number of ingredients to be found in these foods, and then an emphasis on the inclusion of salt, sugars, oils, and fats as a starting point for defining ultra-processed foods.
That is what brings us today to what we buy in the grocery store. Over 60% of American calories come from ultra-processed foods. They are in packages, with long shelf life, with more than 5 ingredients including sugar, fat, preservatives and many things you can't pronounce. You can see for yourself. Go to your pantry and read the labels just for the number of ingredients. If there are more than 5, it meets the simplest criteria for Category 4, "Ultra-processed". It isn't original food anymore. There is something about that mix of additives that is meant to be preserving and enhancing the food product to increase its shelf life, its taste, its addictive qualities....that's killing us.
www.What will Work for me. I picked up an Atkins bar I had on my shelf. Good for me? Right? Keto, after all!! Hmmm. Just 2 grams net carbs. But I counted. 13 ingredients. Do you know what vegetable glycerin, polydextrose, maltilol, sodium caseinate, soy lecithin, sodium metabisulfate, and "natural flavorings" are? Me neither. But that's more than 5 things I can't buy in the store. I thought it was a coconut bar with a shell of chocolate. It qualifies as ultra-processed. My takeaway is that if it comes in a package of any kind, and has any sugar, fat, salt, flavoring, color or preservative, it flunks. And 10 minutes in my pantry: everything flunked. Bummer.
1. Name three unprocessed foods you ate today? Answer: Avocado, lettuce, ...... (couldn't get to three)......
2. Name three minimally processed foods you ate today? Answer: Boiled egg......no, it was deviled egg with Mayo and Sriracha sauce.......(14 and 27 ingredients on the label). My answer...Zero
3. Can you define what ultra-processing means? Answer: Designed to have a long shelf life, with sugar, salt, fat and multiple secondary colorings, flavorings, preservatives, with more than 5 added ingredients,
4. What is the impact of your eating ultra-processed foods? Answer: 25% faster cognitive decline than those who eat less than 20% of their calories from such foods.
5. Average folks eat how much ultra-processed foods? Answer: > 60% of calories.
Ultraprocessed foods damage your brain
This is a well done study from Brazil that answers a question not looked at before. What happens to upper-income folks who have resources to buy whatever food they fancy? You see, as we get wealthier, we choose more ultra-processed foods. Or, as we get poorer and more urbanized, we can only afford the most egregiously ultra-processed foods. Everyone knows that living on a tiny farm in Sicily and eating lots of olive oil, vegetables and some fish results in great health outcomes. The Mediterranean Diet has been shown to be good for you. But do we eat it? Or do we choose to go to the deli or fast food place on the way home and pick up a quick burger and fries? Pizza is, after all, the #5th most popular food in America, Burgers are #1, Fries are #3.... are so convenient.
The participants in this study were all civil servants from across Brazil. There were 10,775 participants, 55% women, 53% Caucasian, average age 52. They were followed for 8 years on average and tested at regular intervals for immediate and delayed word recall, word recognition, and phonemic and semantic verbal fluency tests. Their food choices were collected and noted.
The findings are quite remarkable. If the subjects ate more than 20% of their daily calories from "ultra-processed foods" the subjects showed a dramatic increase in cognitive decline. Anyone above the first quartile in the population of ultra-processed food consumption had a 25% increased rate of cognitive decline. Let's repeat that, in case you had some pizza before you read this. Three-quarters of folks, the top three quartiles, were all in trouble because they had more than 20% of their calories from ultra-processed foods. Ouch!!!
This raises the question, what is ultra-processed? Essentially it comes down to foods that start with food-like ingredients but then has a majority of ingredients being flavorings, preservatives, colors, binding and thickening agents, all not routinely sold at retail. Read the FAO report from the UN.
This is a sea change. We have talked about foods being "Whole Foods" but really we have split our thinking into carbs, fats, and proteins. This categorization changes that construct back into how much the food has been altered from its native, original self. A Peruvian potato is quite a different thing from a modern potato that is pulverized into a paste, soaked in oils, saturated with fat and preservatives, and sold in a cardboard tube.
"The most important factor now, when considering food, nutrition and public health, is not nutrients, and is not foods, so much as what is done to foodstuffs and the nutrients originally contained in them, before they are purchased and consumed. That is to say, the issue is food processing—or, to be more precise, the nature, extent, and purpose of processing, and what happens to food and to us as a result of processing". That puts it in nicely.
And this study is the first, large study to take that clarion call of alarm and examine it in a population and for effects of ultra processing. They are stark.
www.What will Work for me. This is so important, we will talk more about it next week. I wanted to catch your attention with this story so that you learn this as urgently and thoroughly as I do. We should all know all the categories so that we can evaluate everything we eat, every day by that classification and make our choices accordingly. Stop thinking about proteins, carbs and fats and start thinking about the 12 ingredients on the package you never heard of and can't buy anywhere. And then, the Mediterranean Diet will make pretty good sense.
1. What is the definition of Ultraprocessed foods? Answer: Foods that have more ingredients than their native, original food composed of preservatives, colorings, flavors, and conditioning chemicals. (more details to follow next week.)
2. What did this study show? Answer: Folks who ate more than 20% of their calories (75% of this population sample) from ultraprocessed foods had a 25% increased rate of cognitive decline.
3. This data matches what we see when we eat "Keto" or "Vegan". T or F Answer: Mixed picture. It changes the conversation from protein, carb and fat to how much the food has been "prepared" and altered from its original self. Mostly this has to do with making products with long shelf lives that have enhanced, more intense flavors from added salt, sugar and other flavors. Think pork loin versus bologna. Think white bread versus whole grain cereal. Think energy bar versus a banana.
4. It's easy to calculate how much we eat ulltraprocessed foods. T or F Answer: It's a whole new paradigm. We have to learn to think differently.
5. America's number 1 food is...? Answer: a hamburger followed by hotdogs, french fries, Oreo cookies and pizza. And which of these would be considered ultraprocessed? Read next week to understand why all of them qualify.
More Fish Oil, Better Brain
I bet you knew that. But here's proof. And it makes perfect sense. This is where it is coming from. The Framingham study is just about the largest, longest-running survey of a group of average Americans we have. We are, in fact, on the third generation of participants. And this study was on those on those in mid-life. That's the key here.
What this study found was in 2,183 dementia- and stroke-free participants (mean age 46 years, 53% women, 22% APOE-e4 carriers that red cell omega three index predicted better cognitive function. The red cell index indicates the sufficiency of omega-3's in your diet. Humans can't make omega-3 fatty acids so we have to eat them. They are made by green plants. Wild caught animals, deer, elk, moose, rabbit, fish all have omega three's in them. The APOE-e4 gene is the one that predicts severe risk for Alzheimer's and 22% is about the normal representation in the population. They also showed better hippocampal volume on MRI, which correlates with less cognitive trouble. It's that simple. Conclusion, more fish oil, (omega-3 fats we can't make ourselves), better brains.
This doesn't have to sound like gobbledegook. Let's explain. Your brain is fundamentally made of plasmalogen lipids. They make up some 70% of the lipid coating in the membranes of brain cells and much the same in the interior of the 5,000 mitochondria each brain cell has. Plasmalogen lipids are the most liquid of lipids which makes our brains fragile (hence you get concussions easily and we evolved a brain floating in water and suspended by delicate little stretchy cables to cope with that.). That liquid quality allows the membranes of your brain to be able to change shape rapidly. That means you can think rapidly. See the world in real time. Hear rapidly. Use language. Indeed, we would not have evolved a central nervous system without plasmalogen lipids. That simple. And that fluidity all depends on omega fats incorporated into the plasmalogen molecule.
Omega-3 fats, you see, have 5 double bonds in them, all in cis-conformation. The cis-conformation is actually a tad unstable. If they could only flip to "trans" formation, they would be much more stable. But we all know "trans" fats are bad. That instability allows each of those double bonds to swing around. That swinging allows shape-shifting which is integral to a vesicle of neurotransmitter fusing with the synapse membrane and disgorging its contents into the synapse. All in a few nanoseconds. And each double bond confers a 30-degree bend in the molecule. With 5 double bonds, you have a virtual spiral shape. That shape can't pack tightly, which leads to more fluidity. And where do those omega fats go? They are incorporated into the plasmalogen molecule. That's where they go.
Without omega fats, you can't make plasmalogens. Humans actually incorporate more and more plasmalogens into their brains until age 50. Peak brain is age 50. But from 50 to 70, the average human loses some 20% of their plasmalogen content. (Remember, nature isn't interested much in you once you have passed on your genes, and age 50 is pretty much done with doing that.)
We know that Icelanders who eat the most omega-3 fats in the world have very low rates of depression and many other markers of healthy brains. But this study is the first for looking at mid-life french fry-eating Americans. That's when you want to be building up your brain. Once you are over 60, measuring and repairing your plasmalogens will be central to preventing cognitive decline. I'm betting on that. I'm not betting on that antibody on the news today doing anything meaningful.
www.What will Work for me. Just wait. 10 years from now Plasmalogens will finally make it to the mainstream and be acknowledged as the real way to prevent cognitive decline. All the silly drugs that are being introduced right now will be flashes in the pan. But you want to be on all the ingredients that make for a healthy plasmalogen supply. That included fish oil, lecithin, B12 and folate, NAC, and acetyl-carnitine. It takes a 30-year study to prove the effect, and that is what makes the Framingham study so valuable. That level of proof was long in coming. But your life is not a flash in the pan. We want your long life to be fulfilling, and memorable.
1. Where does fish oil end up? Answer: At the SN-2 position on a plasmalogen.
2. What quality does that confer on the plasmalogen? Answer: Fluidity and the ability to shapeshift. The fundamental properties needed to make a neurological system. Rigid membranes would not do.
3. At what age do we have the highest amount of plasmalogen lipids in our brains? Answer: Age 50. Peak brain.
4. Does it make sense that more fish oil makes for better brains? Answer: That's just what this study showed.
5. To make memories and keep them, you have to have a web of synapses all linked together. What is the cause of Alzheimer's? Answer: the loss of synapses secondary to the loss of plasmalogens. Maintain the fish oil and the plasmalogens and your brain always wants to rebuild the memories from what you are doing and remembering each day.
Microplastics are Everywhere
The world produces some 320 million tons of plastics every year, of which 40% are for single-time use. From a variety of causes (sunlight, heat, fire, bacterial degradation), plastics are broken down to "microplastics" (MP) which are defined as those particles smaller than 5 mm. That's still pretty big, about the size of your pinky fingernail. Drop down to 1-5% of that size and you get tinier particles, and those are now being reportedly found in virtually every placenta at birth.
Or go to the Mediterranean and you will find that the majority of the sea floor is composed of microplastic particles. The problem lies in their persistence and their inert nature. They don't act like soils in which plants can grow, or animals find sustenance. They are just there, filling up space. And there are being found everywhere in the human body. Just this spring (2922) reports from the UK and the Netherlands found microplastic particles in surgical lung biopsies and in anonymous blood donors.
Is this ubiquity a problem? Well. We don't know because it has only been studied ever so superficially, but just about everywhere you look there are orange lights flashing. For example, just a year ago a review article looking at animal intestinal studies showed widespread issues including impairments in oxidative and inflammatory balance and disruption of the gut’s epithelial permeability. Not only that, their surfaces are ideal environments to carry and shield pathogens. Almost all plastics also shed various endocrine disruptors like BPA and phthalates.
The endocrine effects on various hormones have become so markedly problematic that the Endocrine Society has gone so far as to state that plastics carry a threat to our health.
We have been caught in the trap of public relations. The petrochemical/plastic sector of our economy has been even more brilliant than the sugar lobby at diverting attention and blame. Each of us faithfully recycles our plastics every week, believing we are making a difference. In fact, less than 9% of our plastics are actually recycled and the rest is sent to landfills for its uncertain life on this planet. We think we are doing something useful and decreasing our risk. We buy water bottles that don't excrete BPA but are still made of plastic. We get carry-out from our restaurants in plastics. A plastic straw here, and dry cleaning bag there....and we handle plastics all day long....my keyboard on my computer, my steering wheel, my toothbrush, grocery bag, shoe laces, comb, remote control, pan handles. light switches. It goes on and on.
Pick any system of your body and google microplastics and that system. It is now being studied, and in every system, we are finding adverse effects. We have no time to lose. We need to think about how to change this trajectory. The plastics industry is predicting that they will increase production some 30-60% in the next decade.
www.What will Work for me. I need to learn the effects of these pervasive compounds. They appear to be so benign and innocuous, and so useful. The one step that has worked in my home is to get rid of all our plastic food containers and replace them with glass. So far so good. Now, reusing paper bags for groceries or taking canvas bags is my next goal.
1. What is the definition of microplastics? Answer: Pieces of plastic smaller than 5 mm - about the size of a soybean or peppercorn.
2. Microplastic particles are likely in your blood. T or F? Answer: True
3. Name some of the effects of microplastics on your gut. Answer: Change the mix of bacteria in your colonic biome, reduce the absorption of nutrients, leach out BPA, and change inflammatory responses....
4. The American Endocrine Society said what about microplastics. Answer: 5-alarm fire. Our endocrine system is being disrupted significantly
5. What is one thing you can do to reduce your need of plastics? Answer: you could be as radical as saying "No single-use plastics for me.". That means no soda bottles, no plastic bags, no straws, no alcohol wipes, and on and on. It's a toughie. But one we likely need to take.
Melatonin Turns Down Your Stress Hormone Response
We know melatonin is our sleep hormone. And we know it plays a role in changing the Warburg metabolism that favors cancer through its effect on the PDC complex. But did you know that it also plays a big role in changing your metabolism of catecholamines, your stress response hormones? That is an interesting story.
Where that inhibition takes place is its own curious biology. Our adrenal glands make cortisol and catecholamines, epinephrine, and norepinephrine. We need cortisol to mobilize glucose and have an alert, awake brain, so it has also been included in the "stress response" portfolio. Cortisol also has a powerful diurnal pattern surging some 5-10 fold between 3 am and 7 am. That is the opposite of melatonin which surges with the onset of darkness and the dropping of cortisol levels.
How does melatonin turn down the production of catecholamines? Clearly we see melatonin go up as cortisol goes down. This is where the complexity and interwoven nature of our biology is so interesting. A whole family of peptide hormones called bone morphogenetic proteins, discovered around bone growth and actually being used clinically to help repair long bone fractures and recalcitrant dental problems, appear to be active in the core of the adrenal gland, where you make your stress hormones. The investigators in this study measured the messenger RNA of the rate limiting step of catecholamine synthesis, tyrosine hydroxylase and found that melatonin turned down its production. A bone-modulating protein, collaborating with melatonin to alter the production of catecholamines! Wakes you up in the morning. Puts you to bed at night.
The technology to elucidate all this intricate web is the same tool molecular biologists are using to examine COVID's effects on our immune system and that Shoemaker is using to examine the downregulation of mRNA in mitochondria secondary to CIRS and mold exposure. It's the measurement of tiny variations in messenger RNA, being sent around the body in the blood to activate and produce new protein. The enzyme, Polymerase Chain Reaction, can copy DNA and RNA and can make millions of copies. When you do that, you can amplify and study it and demonstrate increases and decreases in messaging that is happening in the human cell. And hence we can learn the subtle shifts and machinations of our own biology, and the intertwining effects of hormones.
www.What will Work for me. I'm taking 20 mg of melatonin at bedtime now and feel like I sleep pretty well. Could I be a bit more mellow from doing so? This paper suggests that my stress hormones are all downregulated by my melatonin dose. In the middle of the night, when monkey chatter wants to take over my brain, that effect may be what keeps me asleep. We do know that our production of melatonin has dropped by some 70% from childhood by the time we reach 60-70 years of age. So, I'm going to keep taking it.
1. Melatonin is known to reduce catecholamine synthesis. What are catecholamines? Answer: Your fight-or-flight hormones: epinephrine and norepinephrine.
2. How does it do that? Answer: Very complex interaction with BMP, bone modulating protein in the core of the adrenal gland. For a deep rabbit hole experience, read the Wikipedia entry on bone morphogenetic protein.
3. Does this make sense to you? If you are very angry, or frightened, common feelings with high catecholamine synthesis, can you sleep? Answer: Ah. No.
4. How did bone morphogenetic protein get involved in all this? Answer: This is just another example of the incredible, nuanced web of hormonal mechanisms we have yet to fully appreciate. We can't explain it. We can observe it.
5. I should take more melatonin? Answer: Probably. No harm, no foul.