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Omega-3 Fatty Acids May Not Prevent Heart Attacks

For more than 50 years, medical journals have published studies showing that omega-3 fatty acids in fish help prevent heart attacks. However, last year, three major studies showed that omega-3 fatty acids do not prevent fatal heart attacks, and a recent review of hundreds of studies on fish oils also shows that they may not prevent heart attacks (European Heart Journal, September, 2011).

REASONS FOR NEGATIVE STUDIES:
1) Fish oils may not prevent heart attacks. It is possible that fish prevent heart attacks because the fish oil acts in combination with other nutrients in fish, such as Vitamin D, iodine and selenium.
2) Drugs to treat high blood pressure, cholesterol and clotting may be so far more effective than omega-3s that the added benefit for omega-3s doesn't show up in population studies in people taking medications.
3) People appear to receive maximum benefit from eating fish two times a week. More has not been shown to be better. People in Nordic countries eat large amounts of fish but the extra fish does not add further protection from heart attacks.

TYPES OF OMEGA-3S: Omega-3s occur as short chains in plants and long chains in fish. The long chain omega-3s appear to be far more effective in preventing heart attacks than the short chain ones in plants. Furthermore, the latest study shows that plant omega-3s may not prevent heart attacks (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, published online September 2011).

DIFFERENT OMEGA 3S FROM PLANTS, FISH: Short chain omega-3 acids are found primarily in vegetable oils from canola and soybeans, flaxseed, and English walnuts. The human body cannot convert more than five percent of plant omega-3s to long chain fatty acids. This may explain why fish may prevent heart attacks and plant omega-3s do not or are far less likely to do so.

MERCURY: Nobody has shown, in controlled studies, that there is enough mercury in fish we eat to be harmful. Because of the potential of mercury to cause harm, the Food and Drug Administration recommends that women who are pregnant or nursing and young children eliminate the fish that contain the most mercury. They do not recommend that most people avoid fish because of mercury. Since mercury accumulates over many years, the largest and oldest fish have the most mercury: shark, swordfish, king mackerel, large tuna and tilefish.

WHICH FISH ARE BEST TO EAT?: Only deep water fish have been shown to help prevent heart attacks. Smaller salt-water fish such as salmon have a relatively short life span, so they have the least mercury and plenty of omega-3 fatty acids.

FISH OIL PILLS: Taking fish oil pills may not provide the benefits of eating fish. A recent report shows that fish oil pills lower triglycerides, which is good. High triglycerides increase risk for heart attacks and diabetes. However, fish oil supplements increase blood levels of the "bad" LDL cholesterol that causes heart attacks, and prevent blood from clotting to increase chances of bleeding (Nutrition, Metabolism & Cardiovascular Diseases, September 22, 2011). At this point, nobody has proven that fish oil pills prevent heart attacks.

GOOD DIET: Most experts recommend eating a healthful diet full of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, seeds and nuts, and reducing your intake of sugared drinks and desserts, red meats, fried foods, and refined carbohydrates. You probably should also eat fish. Taking supplements or eating chemicals extracted from foods, such a fish oil pills, will not protect you from an unhealthy diet.

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Reducing and Increasing Risk for Colon Cancer

This week two separate studies show that exercise prevents, and meat increases, risk for colon cancer. The colon is a 5-foot long, U-shaped tube at the end of your intestinal tract. Intense vigorous exercise prevented colon cancer only in the last part of the colon, not in the other parts (Cancer Causes and Control, 10/08/2011). Exercise did not prevent cancer in the first parts of the colon. Moderate intensity activity did not reduce risk for colon cancer. Vigorous physical activity is required to reduce colon and rectal cancer risk.

PROBABLE MECHANISM: Exercise causes giant contractions of the colon which push stool toward the opening. The more intense the exercise, the greater the force of the contractions. So intense exercise prevents carcinogens in stool from remaining for long periods in the last part of the colon, the descending colon.

WHY RED MEAT CAN CAUSE COLON CANCER: Eating red meat and processed meat, particularly meat cooked at high temperatures, markedly increases risk for colon polyps that become cancers. Polyps are small precancerous finger-like projections from the inner lining of the colon. The more meat a person eats, the greater the number of polyps. The higher the temperature that meat is cooked, the more fat is burnt and is converted to heterocyclic amines (HCA) that can cause polyps that become cancers (Cancer Prevention Research, 10/06/2011).

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Vitamin E May Cause Prostate Cancer

Men who take high doses of vitamin E pills (400 IU) are at 17 percent increased risk for prostate cancer. Selenium pills do not affect susceptibility for prostate cancer (Journal of the American Medical Association, October 12, 2011). However in 2003, the Alpha-Tocopherol, Beta-Carotene Cancer Prevention trial showed that men who take lower doses (75 IU) of vitamin E each day had a 35 percent reduction in prostate cancer, and the Physicians Health Study II showed that vitamin E pills do not affect risk for prostate cancer.

PROBABLE MECHANISM: This most recent study shows that high doses of vitamin E are associated with increased risk for prostate cancer. The previous studies showed that lower doses were not associated with increased prostate cancer risk. Nobody really knows how an antioxidant, like vitamin E, may increase cancer risk. Perhaps, at high doses (400 IU), the protective antioxidant becomes an oxidant to cause cancer. Also, taking large doses of vitamin E may cause a buildup of that vitamin to actually poison a person's ability to control cancer. For example, beta carotene (vitamin A), increases risk for lung cancer in smokers.

WHO TAKES VITAMIN E PILLS? More than 50 percent of men over 60 take vitamin E pills, and 23 percent take the very high dose of 400 IU a day, the amount given in the most recent study. The recommended daily dietary allowance for vitamin E is only 22 IU.

This week another study showed that women who take vitamin pills are at increased risk for premature death from cancer and heart attacks (Archives of Internal Medicine, October 10, 2011). In that study, iron appears to be the most dangerous supplement.

VITAMINS FOR INSURANCE: The strongest argument for taking vitamin pills is that fewer than five percent of North Americans eat a healthful diet (nine or more servings of fruits and vegetables a day and more than 50 percent of grains being whole grains). If people feel that they are not getting enough vitamin E from their diet and wish to take supplements, they should not exceed the recommended daily allowance. They should know that the vast majority of studies fail to show health benefits from taking daily vitamin pills.

FOODS RICH IN VITAMIN E: Vitamin E is found primarily in nuts, seeds and vegetable oils.

RECOMMENDATIONS: I think you should get your vitamins from foods. You should eat lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, seeds and nuts. You should restrict red meat, sugared drinks and desserts, fried foods and refined carbohydrates.

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Recipe of the Week:

Eggplant Cooking Made Easy

You'll find lots of recipes and helpful tips in The Good Food Book - it's FREE

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October 16th, 2011
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About the Author: Gabe Mirkin, MD

Sports medicine doctor, fitness guru and long-time radio host Gabe Mirkin, M.D., brings you news and tips for your healthful lifestyle. A practicing physician for more than 50 years and a radio talk show host for 25 years, Dr. Mirkin is a graduate of Harvard University and Baylor University College of Medicine. He is board-certified in four specialties: Sports Medicine, Allergy and Immunology, Pediatrics and Pediatric Immunology. The Dr. Mirkin Show, his call-in show on fitness and health, was syndicated in more than 120 cities. Read More
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