By Sarah A LoBisco, ND

I have recently posted the Top Reads of the Month for February. Every month, I compile excerpts from my various on-line journal articles, newsletters, and practitioner blogs. The intention of these excerpts is to keep patients and blog lovers up to date on headlines from some of the top medical articles and health news from the current month. They also provide a good database for search items.

As many aren’t going to read every article posted every month on the subjects of medication, health, and nutrition, the top reads give an overview of what I consider to be noteworthy and applicable for those interested in wellness. Below are highlighted excerpts from this month and I’ve included some my own comments. Enjoy!


Omega 3 Balance Related to Mood and Nervous System Communication (VitalChoice)

A recent article from VitalChoice highlighted the effects of fish oil on brain health. The following excerpt highlights how an omega balanced diet positively affects the nervous system by increasing neurotransmission and neuroplasticity:


The INSERM team fed mice a life-long diet imbalanced in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.


They found that the resulting shortage of omega-3s and overload of omega-6 fats disturbed communication between brain cells (neurons).


Critically, this was the first research to show the omega-imbalanced diet virtually shut down their brain cells’ CB1R cannabinoid receptors, which play a key role in between-cell communications (i.e., neurotransmission).


And the “neuronal dysfunction” induced by an omega-imbalanced diet was accompanied by depressive behaviors among the mice.


Among omega-3 deficient mice, the usual effects produced by cannabinoid receptor activation disappeared, along with the critical antioxidant effects exerted by the brain’s cannabinoid compounds.


The researchers discovered that the omega-3 deficient diet impaired synaptic plasticity – the ability to form new connections in the brain – in at least two areas (prefrontal cortex and nucleus accumbens) involved in reward, motivation, and emotional regulation.


Fish & Brain Health Commentary

The above study highlighted further evidence from a 2006 study that reported the following:

First, the number of serotonergic neurons and synapses may be decreased as a result of omega-3 fatty acid deficiency in critical developmental periods.

Docosahexaenoic acid supplementation promotes neurite outgrowth (Calderon & Kim, 2004; Ikemoto et al., 2000; Innis et al., 2001), inhibits apoptosis (Kim, Akbar, Lau, & Edsall, 2000), and regulates the composition of polysialyated oligosaccharides (Yoshida et al., 2001), which are important to synaptoneogenesis. In addition, DHA promotes synaptic growth cone formation (Martin, Wickham, Om, Sanders, & Ceballos, 2000).

Furthermore, omega-3 deficiency decreases concentrations of nerve growth factor (NGF) by nearly 50% (Ikemoto et al., 2000). Thus, a DHA insufficiency could possibly lead to reduced numbers of serotonergic neurons and synapses.

Omega-3 fatty acid deficiencies in neurodevelopment, aggression and autonomic dysregulation: Opportunities for intervention. International Review of Psychiatry, April 2006; 18(2): 107-118

My Commentary:

These above studies serve as examples in how the field of nutrigenomics, or how food affects our biochemistry through affecting gene expression, is rapidly expanding. Fish oil contains the vital fatty acids, DHA and EPA. Both are important components in neuronal growth and development in the brain and provide the essential components to an overall healthy diet.

Recently, the effects of fish oil have been somewhat controversial concerning dosages, components, and sources. One reason why many studies are conflicting in nutrition is the result of biochemical variation in individuals. These differences that exist within our DNA and metabolic profiles also provide an answer to why side effects of medicines vary in among people with the same diagnosis taking the same medication. (For more information on the downfalls of evidence based medicine and natural health, read my previous blog on evidence based medicine).

The fact is that unless someone is deficient in a nutrient, or can metabolize the medication provided effectively, any intervention can have unattended effects. In some instances, individuals do best with krill oil, in other situations, plant based forms of fatty acids are optimal. These unique variations in any individual’s makeup is an essential reason why it is indispensible to consult with a practitioner who is trained in treating the cause of the symptom expression and who can determine what type and form of an nutrient would best serve the individual. Furthermore, functional metabolic testing can serve as a supportive component in the Naturopathic Philosophy of treating the individual, when the clinical picture is skewed by too many factors.  

Are We Addicted to Food?

I’ve discussed in previous blogs how our biochemistry affects our cravings and how cravings affect our biochemistry. For example, if one has a low protein diet, dysbiosis, or an imbalance of neurotransmitters, one will have a hard time fighting sugar and carbohydrate cravings. Herein lies how biochemistry can trump the greatest intention at willpower.

In an excerpt from Mark Hyman’s Newsletter, Dr. Hyman reviews the science behind the cycle of failed willpower:

Here are some of the scientific findings confirming that food can, indeed, be addictive (ii):

  • 1. Sugar stimulates the brain’s reward centers through the neurotransmitter dopamine exactly like other addictive drugs.
  • 2. Brain imagining (PET scans) shows that high-sugar and high-fat foods work just like heroin, opium, or morphine in the brain.(iii)
  • 3. Brain imaging (PET scans) shows that obese people and drug addicts have lower numbers of dopamine receptors, making them more likely to crave things that boost dopamine.
  • 4. Foods high in fat and sweets stimulate the release of the body’s own opioids (chemicals like morphine) in the brain.
  • 5. Drugs we use to block the brain’s receptors for heroin and morphine (naltrexone) also reduce the consumption and preference for sweet, high-fat foods in both normal weight and obese binge eaters.
  • 6. People (and rats) develop a tolerance to sugar-they need more and more of the substance to satisfy them-just like they do for drugs of abuse like alcohol or heroin.
  • 7. Obese individuals continue to eat large amounts of unhealthy foods despite severe social and personal negative consequences, just like addicts or alcoholics.
  • 8. Animals and humans experience “withdrawal” when suddenly cut off from sugar, just like addicts detoxifying from drugs.
  • 9. Just like drugs, after an initial period of “enjoyment” of the food the user no longer consumes them to get high, but to feel normal.

Read more here