Column #165

If long-term mental health is a concern, you need to be familiar with Captain Joseph R Hibbeln, M.D., United States Public Health Service. He is a Clinical Investigator and the Acting Chief of the Lumbar Medial Branch Block/Special Needs Network at National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

Dr. Hibbeln has been the principal investigator of numerous studies at the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center and was one of the first investigators to draw attention to the importance of Omega-3 fatty acids in psychiatric disorders. He’s also participated in many collaborative clinical trials of Omega-3 fatty acids for the prevention of suicide, postpartum depression, and violence.

His internationally respected studies show that high ratios of Omega-6 to Omega-3 essential fatty acids (EFAs) negatively impact brain function. His works are well-known by professionals in psychiatry and nutrition but unfortunately the general public, most healthcare professionals, and even many nutritionists have no idea he lives and breathes. So if you are not familiar with his work, I’ll paraphrase and quote some of his findings to provide some insight.

●    The science of Omega-3 fatty acid deficiencies, as reversible risk factors in major psychiatric disorders, has increased in the last decade.
●    An increased risk of personality disorders and sense of despair in normative populations might be considered as symptoms of deficiencies of Omega-3 fatty acids.
●    The major changes in the essential fatty acid composition of the food supply, including increased availability of Omega-6, may be correlated not only with increased risks of homicide, but also increased risks of suicide and suboptimal social cohesion.
●    Food appears to be the most ancient medicine for physical and mental health.
●    In traditional Chinese medicine, seafood is used to calm excessive aggression.
●    In Hinduism, Buddhism, Shinto, Islam, ancient Middle Eastern religions, Judaism, and Christianity, fish is symbolically associated with central tenets of faith and healing.
●    For at least six millennia among independent cultures, fish has nearly universally been symbolically associated with sacred symbols of peace and religion.
●    Pregnant women who avoid seafood may cause abnormalities in children and mothers (postpartum depression).
●    Fish has become labeled as polluted and in a sense symbolically transformed into an impure food by the 2004 US EPA and FDA advisory. Consequently, we now see increased incidences of children with suboptimal verbal IQ, fine motor development, communications development, social development at age three and impaired prosocial development at age seven.
●    Deficient dietary intakes of Omega-3 fatty acids may not only impair optimal neurological development of the fetus but deficiencies may harm the mother during pregnancy.
●    The spectrum of emotional states affected by Omega-3 fatty acids may span from the deepest existential despair and suicide to the most delightful, delicate and sublime poetic expression of spiritual happiness.
●    A broader question is to what depth might our societal happiness or sense of collective meaning be impaired by deficiencies in Omega-3 fatty acids?
●    The healing properties of foods have nearly always had a spiritual or religious context, and that eating foods with healing properties serves to reintegrate the mentally ill back into spiritual harmony.
●    The increase of essential fatty acid ratios from evolutionary compositions (1:1) to the compositions of modern industrialized societies (15:1) has significantly contributed to increased risks of major psychiatric disorders.
●    Still, because of the relatively low numbers of total subjects studied with major depression as well as other affective disorders, and the absence of a large, well-conducted multi-center trial, substantial work remains to be done.

The optimal EFA ratio is thought to be 1:1. Ratios above 4:1 are indications of an Omega-3 deficiency. A 15:1 ratio indicates a serious deficiency. The modern day food supply is loaded with foods high in Omega-6 and low in Omega-3 which is why most people have EFA ratios over 15:1. So how do we change an EFA ratio? The answer is to avoid foods high in Omega-6, eat primarily foods that have close to 1:1 EFA balances, and consider taking a fish oil supplement.

Thankfully the EFA ratio is relatively easy to change. Several years ago Dr. Hibbeln collaborated in a study, one in which I provided grass-fed and Omega-3 meats, that was titled “Blood Fatty Acid Changes in Healthy Young Americans in Response to a 10-Week Diet.” It showed that it only takes 10 weeks to aggressively lower one’s EFA ratio from 17:1 to less than 3:1. Keep in mind though, that while the EFA ratio can be lowered significantly in just 10 weeks resulting in some measurable improvement in mental function, it takes many additional months for the body to properly repair psychiatric disorders.

A ten-subject study titled, “Reversal of Cognitive Decline: A Novel Therapeutic Program,” by Dr. Dale E. Bredesen, showed that diet can reverse severe Alzheimer’s disease while drugs are totally ineffective. He reasoned that, unlike drugs which target discrete symptoms, food addresses multiple “pathogenetic mechanisms” which is far better. It turns out he was right. Although, he noted that even though some improvement was noticeable in three to six months, it took many more months of the highly regimented diet before his subjects were able to go back to work.

There have been many large, long-term observational and intervention studies over the years comparing Omega-3 levels in subjects with psychiatric illnesses such as depression, hyperactivity, impulsivity, rage resulting in homicidal and suicidal behavior, intelligence, and happiness. But getting the trials right (measuring changes in the EFA ratio versus psychiatric symptoms) has always been a bigger challenge than addressing acne, diabetes, and other chronic diseases.

Some chronic diseases can be reversed with dietary changes in a week or two. Conducting short-term peer-reviewed studies involving those situations are rather easy. But getting large numbers of people with more complex diseases (especially mental diseases) to consistently eat a very specific diet is difficult. Getting all of them to stay independently focused for a year on a diet that actually lowers and maintains the EFA ratio below 2:1 is almost impossible. In spite of these difficulties the cumulative data shows a strong correlation between addressing the Omega-3 deficiency and improved brain function and a happier outlook on life generally.

Armed with this knowledge, motivated individuals with self interest and a desire to avoid debilitating chronic diseases can do just that by eating foods that are low glycemic, nutrient dense and diverse, with balanced EFAs. Of course those foods are primarily grass-fed meats, Omega-3 meats, wild-caught seafood, green leafy and some other vegetables, fruit sparingly, and few if any nuts.

To your health.

Ted Slanker

Ted Slanker has been reporting on the fundamentals of nutritional research in publications, television and radio appearances, and at conferences since 1999. He condenses complex studies into the basics required for health and well-being. His eBook, The Real Diet of Man, is available online.

Don't miss these links for additional reading:

From Homicide to Happiness – a Commentary on Omega-3 Fatty Acids in Human Society by Joseph R. Hibbeln, M.D.

Modern Fats and the Modern Mind a video by Capt. Joseph Hibbeln, M.D.

Nutritional Armor -- Brain and Behavior a video by Capt. Joseph Hibbeln, M.D.

Your Brain on Omega 3: Balancing the O3 to O6 Ratio
New Research Shows Lowering Omega-6 Fatty Acids May Help the Brain by Emily Deans M.D., Evolutionary Psychiatry from Psychology Today

Omega-6 to Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acid Ratio and Subsequent Mood Disorders in Young People with At-Risk Mental States: a 7-year Longitudinal Study by ME Berger et al.

Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acid Status in Major Depression with Comorbid Anxiety Disorders by Joanne J. Liu, M.S. et al.

Reversal of Cognitive Decline: A Novel Therapeutic Program by Dale E. Bredesen

Blood Fatty Acid Changes in Healthy Young Americans in Response to a 10-Week Diet by Andrew J. Young et al.

Fish Oil Bipolar Treatment Benefits

Lower Availability of Omega-3 Fatty Acids in the Body Associated with Bipolar Disorder

How to Help Bipolar Disorder with Omega 3 Fatty Acids

Reconsidering Dietary Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids in Bipolar Disorder: A Translational Picture by Erika F.H. Saunders et al.

The Importance of the Ratio of Omega 6 Omega 3 Essential Fatty Acids by Artemis Simopoulos M.D.

How Fast Can the EFA Ratio Change? by Ted Slanker

Ted Slanker’s Omega-3 Blood Test

Get Your Own Omega-3 Blood Test and use slanker as a code for a discount

Food Analysis: GI, GL, Fat Ratio, Nutrient Load by Ted Slanker

Bipolar Disorder and Foods to Avoid from Web MD

Effects of Omega-3 Supplement in the Treatment of Patients with Bipolar I Disorder

Fermented Foods, Microbiota, and Mental Health: Ancient Practice Meets Nutritional Psychiatry by Eva M Selhub et al.