PMS and Essential Fatty Acids

Yet another case of naturopathic medicine being way ahead of the curve when it comes to using treatments for years before they’re eventually “proven” effective. 
Up to 95% of women suffer from at least one PMS symptom, and more than a third of these women have PMS severe enough to interrupt their routine activities. Fortunately, a new study may offer a way for women to get some much-needed relief from monthly bouts of PMS.
PUFA vs. PMS
The exact causes of PMS aren’t known, but health experts suspect that certain essential dietary fats, called polyunsaturated fatty acids, or PUFAs, may play a role. Not getting enough of and the right types of PUFAs may worsen PMS symptoms.
Researchers set out to test this theory by enrolling 120 women into a six-month study. The study authors randomly selected the women to receive a daily 1- or 2-gram PUFA supplement, or a placebo (no fatty acids).
Blood levels of cholesterol and prolactin, a hormone produced in the body that may affect PMS, were tested before and after the study. The women kept symptom diaries to track the details and severity of their PMS from month to month.
After 6 months, the researchers found that compared with the initial PMS ratings:

• Women taking the PUFA supplements had significant decreases in PMS symptoms at three and six months.

• Women taking 2 grams of PUFAs, the highest amount given, experienced the largest decrease in PMS symptoms over time.

• Women taking the placebo h
ad a small decrease in PMS symptoms at three months, but no improvement of symptoms at six months.

None of the women in the study experienced significant changes in blood levels of cholesterol or prolactin. This suggests PUFA supplements do not raise cholesterol in otherwise healthy women experiencing PMS, nor exert their anti-PMS effects through changes in prolactin levels.

Getting your essential PUFAs

If you are interested in trying a PUFA supplement, keep the following tips in mind:

• Talk to your doctor about whether PUFA supplements are right for you. Dietary supplements can interfere with medications, so err on the side of caution when adding new supplements to your self-care routine.

• The 2-gram PUFA supplements used in the study provided 420 mg of gamma linolenic acid, 350 mg of oleic acid, 690 mg of linoleic acid, 500 mg of other PUFAs, and 40 mg of vitamin E. Ask your doctor or dietitian to help you find a supplement with a similar mix of PUFAs.

• You can get more PUFAs from the food you eat as well. Try walnuts and other nuts and seeds, ground flaxseed, green leafy vegetables, tofu and other soy foods, and fatty fish, such as wild-caught salmon.

• Other lifestyle changes that may help ease PMS symptoms include getting enough sleep (seven to eight hours), exercising regularly, limiting intake of caffeine, alcohol, and sweets, and eating a healthy diet based around vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and legumes.

(Essential fatty acids for premenstrual syndrome and their effect on prolactin and total cholesterol levels: a randomized, double blind, placebo-controlled study. Accessed January 20, 2011; Available at: NewsRelease_Essential_oil pill_prevents_PMS.pdf)

Vegetarian Source of Essential Fats

In the first study to investigate the effect of the omega-3 DHA (docosahexaneoic acid) derived from algae, researchers found that people suffering from age-related decline in their thinking (cognition) could get a memory boost by supplementing with the extract.
DHA is a fatty acid found in high concentrations in some fish. Together with other fish-derived oils, DHA is believed to help slow the rate of cognitive decline in people with mild impairment, but it has never been studied on its own.
As the world’s population continues to age, health issues related to aging bodies and brains are becoming more common. Many population-based studies have noted the association between lower DHA levels and cognitive decline in healthy people and those with Alzheimer’s disease.
According to the journal Alzheimer’s and Dementia, the new study was led by doctors at Martek Biosciences Corporation, the company that manufactures the algal DHA supplement used in this study. A total of 437 people aged 55 or older with age-related cognitive decline completed the 24-week study. Half of them were given 900 mg per day of DHA from the algae, Schizochytrium sp.; the rest were given a matching placebo.
Tests were given before and after the supplementation period to measure memory, learning, attention, problem solving, and skills involved with decision making and abstract thinking (executive function skills).
Anti-aging for the brain
The ability to recollect past experiences (episodic memory) and learning in the DHA group significantly improved. People with lower scores at the study outset seemed to benefit the most, as did those with a family history of dementia and those taking cholesterol-lowering medications, “suggesting that potential genetic and cardiovascular factors may influence the effects of DHA on cognition,” the team commented. There was also a significant decrease in heart rate associated with DHA supplementation.
Working memory–that which is used to store and manage information–was not affected, nor was executive function. Participants reported no adverse side effects related to treatment.
Use it, don’t lose it
Try these tips to help keep your mind spry.
• Get moving. Physical exercise helps keep the mind and body young by protecting brain tissue from age-related damage and by keeping the heart healthy.
• Stay involved. People who connect with others through church, volunteering, travel, and leisure activities are doing their brains a favor. Staying socially engaged reduces stress and helps keep the mind sharp.
• Eat right. Diets rich in brightly-colored fruits and vegetables and lean protein (especially fish) help ward off brain-damaging free radicals, preserving tip top brain function.
 (Alzheimers Dement 2010;456-64)

IBS and Exercise

People with irritable bowel syndrome may be able to find some relief by getting regular exercise, a small clinical trial suggests.

The study, of 102 adults with the disorder, found that those who were told to get some more exercise had better odds of seeing improvements in problems like cramps, bloating, constipation and diarrhea.

After three months, 43 percent of the exercisers showed a “clinically significant” improvement in their symptoms — meaning it was making a difference in their daily lives. That compared with a quarter of the participants who maintained their normal lifestyle.

For people who are currently less-than-active, even a moderate increase in exercise may curb irritable bowel symptoms, according to senior researcher Dr. Riadh Sadik, of the University of Gothenburg in Sweden.

In an email, Sadik said the researchers had told those in the exercise group to get 20 to 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous exercise — like brisk walking or biking — on three to five days out of the week.

That’s a level that is generally safe and achievable, Sadik said. On top of that, the researcher added, “it will also improve your general health.”

About 15 percent of Americans have irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, which causes bouts of abdominal cramps, bloating and diarrhea or constipation.

It is different from inflammatory bowel disease, which includes two digestive diseases — ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease — that are believed to involve an abnormal immune system reaction in the intestines.

The exact cause of IBS is unknown, but people with the condition often find that they have certain symptom “triggers,” such as particular foods, larger-than-normal meals or emotional stress. From a naturopathic perspective, we also look at food allergies and dysbiosis (imbalances of gut bacteria) as major underlying causes of IBS.

According to Sadik, exercise may be helpful for several reasons. Past studies have shown that it can get things moving along in the gut, relieving gas and constipation. (Vigorous exercise, however, may worsen bouts of diarrhea.)

Regular exercise may also have a positive influence on the nervous and hormonal systems that act on the digestive tract.

None of the participants in the new study, reported in the American Journal of Gastroenterology, were regularly active at the outset. The researchers randomly asked about half to begin exercising over a 12-week period, with advice from a physical therapist. The rest stuck with their normal lifestyle habits.

At the end of the study, the exercise group reported greater improvements on a standard questionnaire onIBS symptoms. They were also less likely to show worsening symptoms.

Of the exercise group, 8 percent had a clinically significant increase in IBS symptoms, versus 23 percent of the comparison group.

That, according to Sadik, suggests that for a considerable number of people remaining sedentary may only worsen IBS.

“If you have IBS, then you can increase your physical activity to improve your symptoms,” Sadik said. “If you stay inactive, you should expect more symptoms.”  

Naturopathic medicine looks at IBS as a multi-factorial condition, involving physical, mental, and emotional issues, so it makes sense that exercise would have a positive impact when it comes to treating this “condition”. If you have symptoms of IBS, but have not yet explored naturopathic treatments, it would definitely be in your best interest. 

Processed Meats=Unhealthy Eats

I always try to emphasize with patients the importance of avoiding processed meats, particularly due to the increased cancer risk that they pose. Now, it’s even more clear that this advice is warranted, as these foods substantially increase the risk of heart disease and Type II diabetes as well. For more information regarding this Harvard study, visit: