Cod liver oil and optimal health

Fish oil and fresh fish on light background

Cod liver oil is a fish oil supplement. It has a long history in medicine, dating back to the late 1700’s where is was first used to treat rheumatism and then rickets and a variety of other infections.

Similar to other fish oils, cod liver oil is high in Omega-3 fatty acids, which are linked to a variety of health benefits including reduced overall inflammation, improved brain function, heart health and lower blood pressure.

Cod liver oil also contains bioavailable forms of vitamins A and D, often deficient in the modern diet, provide many other health benefits contributing to optimal health and performance.

Typical nutritional profile of a 5 ml serving:

  • Calories: 45
  • Fat: 5g
  • Omega-3 fatty acids: 1000mg
  • Cholesterol: 25mg
  • Vitamin A: approx. 90% of RDI
  • Vitamin D: approx. 110% of RDI

Below are just some of the scientifically back health benefits of supplementing with cod liver oil:

Great source of vitamins A and D
Cod liver oil is incredibly nutritious food, providing approx. 90% of the daily requirement for vitamin A and over 100% of the daily vitamin D requirements.

Traditionally cod liver oil was given to children to support proper growth and brain development, stronger bones and a general protection from infection. It was also taken by mothers during pregnancy and breast-feeding to support the optimal development of their infant.

Vitamin A has many roles in the human body, including maintaining eye health, the immune system, brain function and healthy skin.

It is also one of the best food sources of vitamin D, which has many important roles in the body including brain health and maintaining bone homeostasis by regulating calcium absorption.

Reduced inflammation
Inflammation is a natural process that helps the body fight infections and heal injuries.

In some cases however, this inflammation may continue at low levels for extended periods of time. This is known as chronic inflammation, which is harmful and may increase the risk high blood pressure and several other health conditions.

The omega-3 fatty acids in cod liver oil may help suppress chronic inflammation.

Improved bone health
Having strong bones is incredibly important, especially as you enter advanced age. It is common for people to begin to have a reduction in bone density levels from about the age of 30 years. This can lead to fractures and breaks later in life, especially in women after menopause.

Cod liver oil is a great dietary source of vitamin D and may reduce age-related bone loss. That’s because it helps your body absorb and regulate calcium, which is a necessary mineral for strong and healthy bones.

Reduced joint pain and rheumatoid arthritis symptoms
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that is characterized by damage to the joints.

There is currently no cure for rheumatoid arthritis. This study however, suggests that cod liver oil may reduce joint pain and improve some of the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis like joint stiffness and swelling.

In fact, cod liver oil has been used to treat patients with rheumatism since the late 1700’s.

Supports eye health
Cod liver oil is a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, in particular DHA and vitamin A, both of which may protect against vision loss from age related and inflammatory eye diseases.

To summarise
Cod liver oil is an incredibly nutritious food supplement. It is convent and contains high amounts of Omega-3 fatty acids, along with bioavailable forms of vitamins A and D which are important to optimal health and performance.

Traditionally used to support the proper growth and development of young children, it also has many other health promoting benefits.

Adding cod liver oil to your diet may provide health benefits such as improved bone density, an increased protection against general illness and a reduction in joint pain for those suffering from rheumatoid arthritis.

In general, dosing is usually between 1 and 2 teaspoons (5-10ml) per day. For those who can’t handle the taste it also comes in capsule form.

Alternatively, you can add your daily dose to a small glass of fresh juice or water.

Characteristics of traditional diets

Delicious  portion of  fresh salmon fillet  with aromatic herbs,

From the Weston A. Price foundation.

Characteristics of traditional diets

  1. The diets of healthy, non-industrialized peoples contain no refined or denatured foods or ingredients, such as refined sugar or high fructose corn syrup; white flour; canned foods; pasteurized, homogenized, skim or lowfat milk; refined or hydrogenated vegetable oils; protein powders; synthetic vitamins; or toxic additives and artificial colorings;
  2. All traditional cultures consume some sort of animal food, such as fish and shellfish; land and water fowl; land and sea mammals; eggs; milk and milk products; reptiles; and insects. The whole animal is consumed; muscle meat, organs, bones and fat, with the organ meats and fats preferred;
  3. The diets of healthy, non-industrialized peoples contain at least four times the minerals and water-soluble vitamins, and TEN times the fat-soluble vitamins found in animal fats (vitamin A, vitamin D and Activator X, now thought to be vitamin K2) as the average American diet;
  4. All traditional cultures cooked some of their food but all consumed a portion of their animal foods raw;
  5. Primitive and traditional diets have a high content of food enzymes and beneficial bacteria from lactofermented vegetables, fruits, beverages, dairy products, meats and condiments;
  6. Seeds, grains and nuts are soaked, sprouted, fermented or naturally leavened to neutralize naturally occurring anti-nutrients such as enzyme inhibitors, tannins and phytic acid;
  7. Total fat content of traditional diets varies from 30 percent to 80 percent of calories but only about 4 percent of calories come from polyunsaturated oils naturally occurring in grains, legumes, nuts, fish, animal fats and vegetables. The balance of fat calories is in the form of saturated and monounsaturated fatty acids;
  8. Traditional diets contain nearly equal amounts of omega-6 and omega-3 essential fatty acids;
  9. All traditional diets contain some salt;
  10. All traditional cultures make use of animal bones, usually in the form of gelatin-rich bone broths;
  11. Traditional cultures make provisions for the health of future generations by providing special nutrient-rich animal foods for parents-to-be, pregnant women and growing children; by proper spacing of children; and by teaching the principles of right diet to the young.

How to get more fat in your diet

a heart shaped butter pat melting on a non-stick surface

Most foods that we eat today have some amount of fat content. 

Fat is an amazing flavour enhancer. It makes everything taste better.

Many people are starting to accept that fat is not all bad and have started to make the shift into lower carbohydrate diets. The thing is, when you lower your carbohydrate intake, you will need to increase one of the other macro-nutrients, protein or fat.

From a nutritional perspective, humans have evolved eating mostly protein and fats. In fact, it was the shift into eating more fatty tissue and organ meats that made cognitive revolution occur. This is also known as the development of the human brain.

More recent times have led to the vilification of dietary fats, however it’s not all bad. Additional to providing flavour, dietary fat from whole food sources provides the necessary intake of valuable fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E & K.

More and more research is proving that the real enemy is excessive carbohydrate and processed “food” consumption, combined with an overstressed, sedentary lifestyle, that is causing the explosions in obesity and chronic “diseases of lifestyle” that are so common in present day populations.

Here is a bunch of ways to get more fat into your diet:

Use whole, full-fat ingredients
It’s time to remove all of the low-fat or lite food products from the pantry and refrigerator.

Look for full-fat dairy products. Milk (if tolerant), butter, cream, yoghurt and cheeses. Add in avocados and some pastured eggs. Try to add natural fats rather than avoid them entirely.

Fatty cuts of meat can be more flavourful, and are often cheaper than leaner cuts. Wild salmon and sardines contain high amounts of important omega-3 fats and make valuable additions to the dinner plate.

Cook with fats
Cook your vegetables, meats, fish and eggs in natural fats like butter, ghee or coconut oil.

Use a variety of natural fats for flavour
Different fats can provide different flavours to your food. This will create variety to your meals without too much complication.

Try experimenting with these fats and oils:

  • Butter and ghee;
  • Lard, tallow, duck fat, or any other animal fat;
  • Coconut oil;
  • Olive oil;
  • Macadamia nut oil;
  • Avocado oil.

Top your dishes with butter or oils
A drizzle of oil. A dollop of sour cream. Melt some butter. You can top off almost any dish with some health promoting fats.

Garnish with high fat foods
Avocado. Cheese. Olives. Nuts and seeds. All of these high fat foods are packed with nutrients and important fat-soluble vitamins, so add these to your meals when available.

Eat more cheese
Cheese is a simple addition to any meal. It can even work as an appetizer. It goes with just about anything and can be eaten at anytime of the day. Packed with both protein and fat it makes a perfect addition to any meal or gathering.

If you are sensitive to dairy products, you may be able to tolerate hard cheeses such as Parmesan, Cheddar and Gouda as they have generally low amounts of lactose that most people will be able to manage small to moderate amounts.

Cheese is often served as dessert in my house.

Blend fats into your coffee or tea
Adding coconut or MCT oil to your morning coffee or tea is quick and easy. Full-fat cream works just as well and will give you that milky flavour with very little lactose content.

The combination of caffeine and MCT’s will provide you with some mental clarity, make you feel more alert and focused, as well as reduce the typical caffeine crash.

It will prime the body to shift from glucose to fat as a fuel source which will also keep your appetite suppressed for longer.

Are you at risk of Diabetes?

sugar-cubes-diabetes_h

What is Type-2 diabetes?
Type-2 diabetes is a chronic (long-term) disease marked by high levels of sugar in the blood. It is sometimes called a lifestyle disease, because it is more common in people who don’t do enough physical activity, and who are overweight or obese.

Type-2 diabetes is diagnosed when the pancreas does not produce enough insulin (reduced insulin production) and/or the insulin does not work effectively, and/or the cells of the body do not respond to insulin effectively (insulin resistance).

Type-2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes, contributing to approximately 85% of all cases.

There are currently over 1.2 million people in Australia with diabetes. This figure is expected to increase significantly in the coming years, with over 2 million people at high risk of developing diabetes.

People with diabetes have a higher risk of developing heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, circulation problems, lower limb amputations, nerve damage and damage to the kidneys and eyes.

In 2004-2005, 60% of all people reporting diabetes also reported having cardiovascular disease

– Australian Bureau of Statistics

Risk Factors
Many Australians, particularly those over the age of 40, are at risk of developing Type-2 diabetes through poor lifestyle choices such as inadequate physical activity and poor nutrition.

Some genetic factors may also increase your risk of developing type-2 diabetes.

Symptoms
Common symptoms include:

  • Increased thirst;
  • Frequent urination;
  • Unexplained weight loss;
  • Increased hunger;
  • Reduced energy;
  • Reduced healing capacity;
  • Itching and skin infections;
  • Blurred vision;
  • Increased weight;
  • Mood swings;
  • Leg cramps.

Insulin
Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that allows the body to use glucose from carbohydrates in the food for energy, or to store glucose for future use. Insulin helps keep your blood glucose level from getting too high (hyperglycemia), or too low (hypoglycemia).

Many of the cells in your body use glucose for energy. However, glucose cannot go into most of your cells directly. After you eat food and your blood glucose level rises, the beta cells in your pancreas are signalled to release insulin into your bloodstream.

Insulin is often described as the key that unlocks the cell to allow sugar to enter the cell and be used for energy.

If you have more glucose in your body than it needs, insulin helps store the glucose in your liver and will release it when your blood glucose level is low or during times of physical activity. Therefore, insulin helps balance out blood glucose levels and keeps them in a normal range. As blood glucose levels rise, the pancreas secretes more insulin.

If your body does not produce enough insulin or your cells are resistant to the effects of insulin, you may develop hyperglycemia, which can cause long-term complications if the blood sugar levels stay elevated for long periods of time.

Below is a table explaining risk levels based on your blood glucose levels, in both fasted and non-fasted (2-hours post-meal) states.

blood-glucose-numbers-e1542706142794.jpg

What can you do about lowering your risk?
For a start, your lifestyle choices can definitely lower your chances, or, at least delay the onset of type-2 diabetes.

There are some factors that you can not change, such as your genetic makeup and predisposition to developing type-2 diabetes. You can, however, do something about being overweight, waist measurement, how active you are, eating habits, and how much or often you smoke.

Even if you haven’t won the gene pool lottery, you can still reduce your risk with positive lifestyle choices. This is called gene expression. Simply put, you genes load the gun, but it’s your environment that pulls the trigger.

What does this mean? Well, by increasing your physical activity, improving your eating habits and getting some quality sleep you will be well on the way to lowering your overall risk.

Sleep quality
Poor sleep can affect diabetes both directly and indirectly, by changing normal patterns of hormones, contributing to greater weight gain and obesity, and causing changes to lifestyle.

Sleep deprivation or poor sleep quality, especially as we reach middle age and older, can almost double your risk of developing type-2 diabetes, according to several large studies.

Sleep deprivation also increases the stress hormone cortisol, which can make cells even more insulin resistant.

By improving your sleep patterns you will be setting yourself up for success. Sleep has a strong influence over eating patterns, exercise habits, and the hormones that regulate hunger and satiety.

Physical activity
The Australian Government Department of Health guidelines for physical activity suggest that adults should be aiming for somewhere between 2.5 and 5 hours of moderate level physical activity per week, or alternatively, 1 to 2.5 hours of high intensity physical training.

Most people understand the benefits of pushing some weight around in the gym, but this doesn’t mean that everybody needs to live there. A casual jog or run around the river, swimming some laps in the pool, a game squash or even a short hike will all work well. The variations are endless.

Even something as little as adding a 30 minute walk after meals you can greatly reduce the amount of insulin required to transport glucose around the body.

The take away here is that some physical activities better than zero physical activity.

Nutrition
Making the shift to more of a whole food based diet and lowering your overall carbohydrate intake will great reduce the body’s requirement to control insulin. A paleo type diet is a good place to start as it eliminates most of the troublesome foods like refined sugars, cereals and grain based products, and emphasises on eating lean meats and fish, along with plenty of vegetables and some healthy fats and oils.

The aim here is to reduce the amount of insulin required to transport glucose around the body. Lowering your dietary carbohydrate intake will most definitely reduce the need for your body to produce insulin.

How low-carb do you have to go? Well… The issue here is that what works for one person may not work as well for the next. This is where personalised nutrition can play a part in your success. All this means is that different foods react differently with different people.

Modern era diets can be upwards of 55% carbohydrate for total caloric intake. This can be about 300-350 grams per day. That is quite high considering how sedentary the modern lifestyle has become.

Lets say you half that number. 100-150 grams per day. Pretty easy to do if you ditch cereal and grain based products. It takes a lot of broccoli and spinach to total 100 grams of carbohydrate.

Now combine that with quality sleep and some physical training, and you will be reducing your body’s requirement to produce insulin whilst activating optimal fat burning processes.

Another bonus is that you will be lowering your total caloric intake without a real loss of nutrient density, so you’ll probably find that you’ll also lose a few unwanted kilograms at the same time, which will likely improve several other health biomarkers, leading to an improved quality of life.

To me, that looks like a net win.

If you are struggling with controlling your insulin levels, it is always best to consult with your health professional.

The evolution of the human diet

Noel-Garvan-column-image

The human diet has changed quite dramatically throughout our history. From opportunistic scavengers, to traditional hunter-gatherers to the postindustrial age.

There have been obvious advantages with the evolution of modern society, however the majority of changes in the human diet that accompanied both the Agricultural and Industrial Revolutions, affected the general health of modern humans, and not always in a good way.

Let’s have a look.

The Paleolithic era (2.6 million years ago – 10,000 years ago)
As hunter-gatherers, the general diet was varied due to differences in geographical location and season, however they all consisted of wild animal and plant sources.

Macronutrient distribution was approximately:

  • Protein: 19-35%
  • Fat: 28-58%
  • Carbohydrate: 22-40%

Other characteristics of hunter-gatherer diets included:

  • Low glycemic load;
  • High antioxidant capacity;
  • High micronutrient density;
  • Equal Omega-3 to Omega-6 ratio;
  • Close to equal Sodium to Potassium ratio.

Did hunter-gatherers eat grains and grasses? Probably. Did they eat them often? Unlikely. The effort required to consume unprepared grains or grasses would have been too taxing on the digestive system, which would have likely led to decreased performance and not enough of an energy return to warrant regular consumption.

As a result, hunter-gatherers were generally lean and strong, with dense bones and broad dental arches. Health biomarkers such as blood pressure and cholesterol were generally normal into advanced age.

Evidence suggests that the incidence of diet related disease was low.

The Agricultural Revolution (about 10,000 to 12,000 years ago)
Archaeological data indicates that the domestication of various types of plants and animals started happening in separate locations worldwide around 12,000 years ago.

The transition from a lifestyle of hunting and gathering to one of agriculture and settlement, made larger populations possible. This however, greatly narrowed the diversity of foods available, resulting in a downturn in human nutrition.

Grains and dairy products from sheep started to become dietary staples at the expense of larger wild animals.

As a result, common characteristics of early agricultural diets, compared to hunter-gatherer diets included:

  • Higher carbohydrate, diary fats, milk sugars and alcohol;
  • A decrease in protein intake;
  • A decrease in Omega-3
  • A decrease in antioxidants and micronutrients;
  • Higher overall caloric density;
  • Higher glycemic loading;
  • Higher sodium to potassium ratios.

The transition to an agricultural dietary pattern led to a decrease in lifespan, a reduction in height, an increase in dental health problems, iron deficiency anemia, and several bone mineral disorders.

These health issues can be still seen today in hunter-gather communities that have only recently been exposed to post-agricultural diets.

The Industrial Revolution (about 250 years ago) and Modern era (the last 50 years)
The introduction of novel foods with the industrial revolution altered several nutritional characteristics of human diets, which has had far-reaching adverse effects on human health.

Extensive evidence shows that the consumption of westernized modern era diets adversely affects gene expression, immunity, gut microbiota and increases the risks of developing cancer, heart disease, obesity, type-2 diabetes, and a plethora of other chronic health conditions.

Common characteristics of industrial and modern era diets, compared to hunter-gatherer diets include:

  • Higher carbohydrate, alcohol, trans-fats, sodium & omega-6;
  • Lower in fiber, antioxidants, protein and omega-3;
  • Higher glycemic load;
  • Higher energy density;
  • Lower micronutrient density;
  • Higher sodium to potassium ratio.

Even with the advances in medicine and technology, it has been estimated that the next generation will be the first in over one thousand years to actually have a shorter lifespan average than the current generation.

Many of the diet related diseases of the modern era can be reversed by increasing daily physical activity and modifying diet by eliminating known inflammatory foods. The issue however, is figuring out how to implement these changes at population-wide levels.

What is DHA?

RUS-01743_DHA_Strawberry_90ct

Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA) is a specific type of omega-3 fatty acid.

Found naturally occurring in certain fish (with emphasis on mackerel, salmon, herring, and sardines), it has been shown to be one of the most potent health boosters on the entire planet.

Structure
DHA is what is known as a ‘Long-Chain Omega-3 Fatty Acid’, as it is 22 carbons long, and has 6 double bonds (making it physically long in structure compared to other fatty acid molecules).

epa-and-dha-structure

DHA and the evolution of the human brain
An important turning point in human evolution was the discovery of high-quality, easily digested nutrients from coastal seafood and inland freshwater sources.

Previously, Neanderthals sourced protein predominantly from the red meat of wolves, large feline and hyenas. The is little to no evidence of fresh water aquatic species or marine sources of protein in the bone collagen of Neanderthal specimens.

In comparison, seafood consumption of early modern humans was a nutritional staple. Depending on geographical region, freshwater or marine sources of protein made up between 10-50% of the diet for these populations.

Freshwater sources occurred along rivers and included fish and/or water fowl and marine sources were coastal and included fish, shellfish and small slow-moving animals such as turtles or tortoises.

This study suggests that the discovery, and subsequent multi-generational exploitation of aquatic and marine food sources coincides with the rapid expansion of the brain that is unique to modern humans.

This exploitation coincided with a rise in cognitive development leading to a more elaborate enrichment in material culture, such as personal ornamentation, decoration of burials and pottery figurines.

Benefits of DHA in the diet
Supplementation of DHA has been shown to have profound effects on health, wellbeing and overall performance. Due to its somewhat broad influence throughout the body, these effects can impact a number of physiological systems, boosting health in a variety of ways.

DHA has a positive effect on diseases such as hypertension, arthritis, atherosclerosis, depression, adult-onset diabetes mellitus, myocardial infarction, thrombosis, and some cancers.

Brain health
The human brain requires somewhere between 20 and 30% of the body’s available energy. It is even higher during the early years of life. Both EPA and DHA are responsible for many of the brain’s unique cognitive capacities and advance brain functions.

As DHA makes up about 30% of our brain matter and approximately 50% of retinal structure in our eyes, it stands to reason that its consumption has the potential to impact our brain health and eye health. This has been well supported within the scientific literature.

Consumption of DHA has been shown to protect against age related declines in brain health, brain size, and associated reductions in neural function. With this has come an increase in performance during cognitively driven tasks, in conjunction with improved memory, and an improved capacity for learning.

DHA supplementation has also been shown to have a preventative effect on both dementia and age related cognitive decline, ensuring our mental function well into older age, while significantly reducing our risk of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

Heart health
DHA has the potential to improve the state of the body’s cells, while simultaneously reducing harmful inflammation throughout the entire body.

Through these two mechanisms, the supplementation of DHA can cause significant reductions in blood triglycerides, blood pressure, and ‘bad’ cholesterol (LDL cholesterol).

DHA has also been shown to reduce cardiac arrhythmias.

As a result, the consumption of DHA can greatly improve our cardiovascular health and function, significantly reducing our risk of developing heart disease and diabetes.

In summary
DHA is one of the most important nutrients within the entire body, where it is used to make the cell membranes of literally every cell in the body, while also acting as a key structural component for tissues found in the brain, eyes, and skin.

With this in mind, its supplementation can improve brain health, increase cardiovascular function, and cause significant improvement in eye health and function. Making it one of the most effective supplements on the market.

The case for taking a walk after you eat

walk

At the end of a long day, it can be very tempting to dive into social media or Netflix the minute you’ve finished eating. But back before screens consumed all of our free time, an after-dinner stroll was a popular activity and one associated with improved health and digestion. 

Research backs this up. This study found that when older adults at risk for type-2 diabetes walked on a treadmill for 15 minutes after a meal, they had smaller blood sugar spikes in the hours afterwards. In fact, the researchers found that these short post-meal walks were even more effective at lowering blood sugar after dinner than a single 45-minute walk taken at mid-morning or late in the afternoon.

Simply put, the human digestive system breaks down and converts food into glucose, which is one of the body’s main energy sources. So after a meal, glucose floods a person’s bloodstream. For most people, this is at its highest about 45 to 60 minutes after eating.

Hormones like insulin help transport that glucose into cells, either to be used immediately or stored away for later use. However, for people with diabetes or impaired insulin sensitivity, too much glucose can remain in the blood, which can cause or contribute to heart disease, stroke, kidney disease and a variety of other health problems.

So, what good does walking do? The muscles used to walk use glucose as energy. This glucose is taken directly from the blood as it is the most readily available energy source. Using energy to walk lowers the glucose levels in the blood.

This means that when your digestive system starts to release glucose into your blood, your blood glucose levels will not spike so dramatically.

This study from 2016 found that just 10 minutes of walking after a meal helped control the blood sugar levels of people with type-2 diabetes.

Along with combatting surges in blood sugar, a little post-meal movement may also aid digestion. Exercise stimulates peristalsis, which is the process of moving digested food through the GI tract.

Here are some of the other health benefits associated to taking a walk after meals:

  • More quality time with friends or family (if not walking alone);
  • Increased vitamin D exposure (in summer months);
  • Improved blood circulation;
  • Decreased triglycerides;
  • Strengthened immune function;
  • Reduced stress;
  • Improved sleep quality.

Even if you can only fit in a quick 10-minute walk in the evening, the long-term benefits will be worth it.