Gut Throws Cells Overboard When Chemical Insults Build Up

When we eat things that are toxic:  medications, processed foods, food dyes, dairy, grains, alcohol, …we develop Leaky Gut, the beginning of health problems and inflammation.

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A team of Duke researchers has discovered that cells lining the gut of zebrafish—and probably humans too—have a remarkable defense mechanism when faced with certain kinds of toxins: they hit the eject button.

“The gut has the challenging job of handling all the chemicals that we consume or produce, and some of those chemicals can be damaging. So the gut has evolved many interesting ways to defend against damage,” said Ted Espenschied, a Duke graduate student who led the effort as part of his dissertation research.

The Duke team was testing more than 20 non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) in an attempt to make the zebrafish a new model for studying chemical injury in the gut. The fish are cheap to maintain, easy to breed, and most importantly, translucent for the early part of their lives, Rawls said. It’s also easy to administer chemical exposures and measure their environmental conditions via the tank water.

The researchers found something unexpected.”It’s often the case that drugs have multiple off-target effects,” said John Rawls, an associate professor of molecular genetics and microbiology and director of the Duke Microbiome Center.

But only one of the drugs they tested seemed to create any measurable differences in the fish, an old NSAID called Glafenine. It had been an over-the-counter oral painkiller used in Europe and the Middle East for three decades, but was taken off the market after being linked to kidney and liver damage.

Glafenine was making the fish shed up to a quarter of the cells lining their intestines overnight by a process called delamination. What hadn’t been recognized before is that delamination, which seems catastrophic, is actually a highly effective defense strategy.

The lining of the gut is a single layer of finger-like epithelial cells packed closely together. When a gut epithelial cell is distressed, it somehow becomes marked for destruction. During delamination, neighboring epithelial cells push against the doomed cell to loosen its anchor to the basement membrane they all stand on. The neighbors squeeze in on it and crowd it out until it pops up and is carried away to die in the gut.

A cross-section of zebrafish gut showing the junctions between epithelial cells in green and a protein expressed on absorptive cells in pink. Credit: John Rawls Lab, Duke University

“We weren’t expecting delamination to be protective,” Espenschied said.

Espenschied pivoted on the unexpected finding. “Only one NSAID had this remarkable effect of causing delamination of the gut epithelium and we were wracking our brains trying to figure it out,” Espenschied said.

“So we chased it,” Rawls added.

After many experiments and a detailed analysis of Glafenine’s chemical properties, Espenscheid determined that it wasn’t the drug’s NSAID qualities that harmed the gut, but rather its ability, apparently unique among NSAIDs, to inhibit a cellular structure known as the multidrug-resistant, or MDR, efflux pump.

These pumps exist to help purge unwelcome chemicals from the interior of the cell. Cancer researchers have been very interested in finding ways to block MDR efflux pumps because tumors ramp them up dramatically to push chemotherapies out of cancer cells, foiling cancer therapy.

Much less is known about what the pumps do in normal cells. “We do know that if you block these pumps, cells are unable to clear toxic chemicals and problems ensue,” Rawls said. When Glafenine blocks the MDR efflux pumps in zebrafish, the gut responds with delamination, by means the researchers haven’t yet identified.

“We don’t know yet which cells leave and why,” Espenschied said. “What separates that cell from its neighbors is a really fascinating question that we don’t know the answer to yet.”

“Delamination is a common solution to a lot of different insults,” Rawls said. “But it’s been challenging to understand if that is contributing to damage and disease, or a beneficial adaptation to the insult. Our work shows that it’s actually beneficial.”


Cholesterol Medication Can Lead to Diabetes

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The patients who were prescribed cholesterol-lowering statins had at least double the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, suggests a study.

The study published in the ‘Diabetes/Metabolism Research and Reviews’ analyzed health records and other data from patients to provide a real-world picture of how efforts to reduce heart disease may be contributing to another major medical concern, said Victoria Zigmont, who led the study.

Researchers found that statin users had more than double the risk of diabetes diagnosis compared to those who didn’t take the drugs. Those who took the cholesterol-lowering drugs for more than two years had more than three times the risk of diabetes.

“The fact that increased duration of statin use was associated with an increased risk of diabetes — something we call a dose-dependent relationship — makes us think that this is likely a causal relationship,” Zigmont said.

“That said, statins are very effective in preventing heart attacks and strokes. I would never recommend that people stop taking the statin they’ve been prescribed based on this study, but it should open up further discussions about diabetes prevention and patient and provider awareness of the issue.”

Researchers also found that statin users were 6.5 per cent more likely to have a troublingly high HbA1c value, a routine blood test for diabetes that estimates average blood sugar over several months.

The study included 4,683 men and women who did not have diabetes, were candidates for statins based on heart disease risk and had not yet taken the drugs at the start of the study.

About 16 per cent of the group — 755 patients — were eventually prescribed statins during the study period, which ran from 2011 until 2014. Participants’ average age was 46.

Randall Harris, a study co-author and professor of medicine, said that the results suggested that individuals taking statins should be followed closely to detect changes in glucose metabolism and should receive special guidance on diet and exercise for prevention.

Zigmont was careful to take a wide variety of confounding factors into account in an effort to better determine if the statins were likely to have caused diabetes, she said. That included gender, age, ethnicity, education level, cholesterol and triglyceride readings, body mass index, waist circumference and the number of visits to the doctor.


Some Vitamin Supplements Can Increase Risk of a Stroke, Study Finds

No one should EVER supplement with Calcium, it causes us to leach calcium from the bones as it is toxic to organs. But combining it with Vitamin D can cause problems.

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Vitamin supplements taken by millions of people can increase the risk of heart disease, a large study suggests .

New research has found links between certain types of daily pills combining calcium and vitamin D and an increased risk of stroke.

US scientists believe the combination may be responsible for atherosclerosis, a disease whereby plaque builds up in the arteries.

Such pills are commonly marketed as necessary to preserve bone strength and aimed at middle-aged and elderly people, whose risk of stroke is already higher.

Overall, it is estimated that around 45 per cent of UK adults take some form of vitamin supplements every day, supporting an industry worth roughly £430 million a year.

Published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, the new data forms part of a wider set of results suggesting that few nutritional supplements protect against cardiovascular disease or death .

Based on a review of 277 randomised controlled trials comprising nearly one million people, the study also questioned the effectiveness of a Mediterranean-style diet for improving resilience against heart disease.

Dr Safi Khan, who led the research at West Virginia University, said: “A combination of calcium and vitamin D was associated with a higher risk of stroke.”

He added: “Other supplements did not seem to have significant effect on mortality or cardiovascular outcomes.”

The research looked at the effect of 16 different nutritional supplements and eight dietary interventions on mortality and cardiovascular outcomes in the adult participants.

It concluded that cutting down on salt and eating omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in oily fish, offered some protection against heart disease, meanwhile folic acid offered some protection against stroke.

Supplements combining calcium and vitamin D appeared to increase the risk of having a stroke by 17 per cent.

However, scientists have urged caution in interpreting the results as establishing cause and effect is the field of nutrition is notoriously difficult.

“We found out only a few of the 16 nutritional supplements and one of the eight dietary interventions evaluated had some protective effect in cardiovascular risk reduction,” said Dr Khan.

Supplements that did not appear to have any significant effect on mortality or cardiovascular outcomes included selenium, vitamin A, vitamin B6, vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin D alone, calcium alone, folic acid, and iron.

NHS advice states that most people do not need to take vitamin supplements because they should receive all the vitamins and minerals they need by eating a balanced diet.


Plant-based Meats Sound Healthy, but they’re Still Processed Foods and It’s Mostly Soy

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Ingredients-  Water, Soy Protein Concentrate, Coconut Oil, Sunflower Oil, Natural Flavors, 2% or less of: Potato Protein, Methylcellulose, Yeast Extract, Cultured Dextrose, Food Starch Modified, Soy Leghemoglobin, Salt, Soy Protein Isolate, Mixed Tocopherols (Vitamin E), Zinc Gluconate, Thiamine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B1), Sodium Ascorbate (Vitamin C), Niacin, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B6), Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), Vitamin B12.

It’s mostly soy, and that is problematic as soy is not fit for human consumption;

Soy foods contain trypsin inhibitors that inhibit protein digestion and adversely affect pancreatic function. In test animals, diets high in trypsin inhibitors led to stunted growth and pancreatic disorders. Soy foods increase the body’s requirement for vitamin D, needed for strong bones and normal growth. Phytic acid in soy foods results in reduced bioavailability of iron and zinc which are required for the health and development of the brain and nervous system. Soy also lacks cholesterol, likewise essential for the development of the brain and nervous system. Megadoses of phytoestrogens in soy formula have been implicated in the current trend toward increasingly premature sexual development in girls and delayed or retarded sexual development in boys. A recent study found that women with the highest levels of estrogen in their blood had the lowest levels of cognitive function; in Japanese Americans tofu consumption in mid-life is associated with the occurrence of Alzheimer’s disease in later life.  Soy isoflavones are phyto-endocrine disrupters. At dietary levels, they can prevent ovulation and stimulate the growth of cancer cells. As little as four tablespoons of soy per day can result in hypothyroidism with symptoms of lethargy, constipation, weight gain and fatigue.

Twice in June, ingredients used by both of America’s most popular plant-based meat companies were called into question.

On June 21, a consumer interest group issued concerns around one of the ingredients in Beyond Meat’s production process. And earlier in June, the World Health Organization said that eating heme—a main ingredient in the Impossible Foods burger—is linked with the formation of carcinogens in the gut.So far, both companies have weathered the criticism. But increased scrutiny of Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods’ meat alternatives poses a big question for all companies offering substitutes to edible animal flesh. How do they truthfully and thoughtfully communicate what they are making—highly processed food—to consumers who are invested in their social missions, yet dubious of food that humans have tinkered with?

While plant-based meat companies are ultimately making processed foods, their marketing is more in line with natural, organic offerings. “I was encouraging the plant-based companies to recognize this a couple years ago,” says Jack Bobo, a food technology consultant who works with companies making meat alternatives.

At the time, the companies didn’t seem to consider the fact that groups opposed to genetically-modified and processed foods would eventually come after them. “They often tried to position themselves as being in the organic, gluten-free, natural product space,” Bobo says.

Now, Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods are increasingly facing questions around how their products are made. The first backlash arguably hit in 2018, when the US Food and Drug Administration expressed concern over a key ingredient in the Impossible Foods burger. The company uses genetically modified yeast to produce the soy leghemoglobin, or “heme,” that gives its burger a meat-like flavor. The agency later gave the company its nod of approval.

Others are concerned that leghemoglobin—again, a new ingredient in the food supply, since humans don’t typically eat soy roots—hasn’t gone through enough testing to prove it’s safe, and agree with the FDA that Impossible Foods’ GRAS notification came up short. “The point of some of us that are being critical of this is not that everything that’s engineered is unsafe or anything like that,” says Michael Hansen, senior staff scientist at the Consumers Union, which was also not involved in the FOIA. “It’s like, look, any new food ingredient, some new food additive, of course it should go through a safety assessment process.  Ingredients include wheat protein, to give the burger that firmness and chew. And potato protein, which allows the burger to hold water and transition from a softer state to a more solid state during cooking. For fat, Impossible Foods uses coconut with the flavor sucked out. And then of course you need the leghemoglobin for heme, which drives home the flavor of “meat.

An even newer category of meat alternative companies would do well to pay attention. Cell-cultured meat producers like JUST, Aleph Farms, and Memphis Meat make animal protein that doesn’t require the slaughtering of animals. If the plant-based meat concerns catch enough public attention, they rusk hurting the perception of all meat alternatives—including the cell-cultured products that haven’t even hit the market. “Anybody can poison the well for everybody,” says Bobo.

Some cell-cultured food companies are tackling their messaging even before products hit shelves. “We spend a lot of time trying to make sure everyone understands what we’re doing,” says Mike Selden, the co-founder of cell-cultured fish company Finless Foods. “There’s just too many people and they don’t all go for the same news sources and channels of communication.” But some messaging has to wait. “No matter what a lot of our communication is going to be right at the endpoint of use, like in the restaurant on the menu, and what it tastes like.”

As Bobo explains, how people use language around their products matter, especially when consumers are shopping and eating in an environment in which there’s suspicion (much of it scientifically unwarranted) around genetically-modified ingredients and the health impacts of processed foods. For these meat alternative companies, the issue boils down to how they truthfully and thoughtfully communicate what they’re making.

So far, though, the plant-based alternatives have demonstrated a winning playbook. Beyond Meat’s stock price has climbed more than 129% since its initial public offering in early May, from an opening price of $25 per share to $154.13 when the US markets opened Friday (June 28).

Beyond Meat’s stock has only hit small road bumps—when Nestlé announced plans to launch a veggie burger in the US this fall, when both Perdue Farms and Tyson Foods touted intentions to sell hybrid plant-meat products later this year, and when a story broke that grocery store chains are still mulling whether plant-based burgers should be sold in the meat aisle instead of the specialty foods section.

From the perspective of cell-cultured meat companies, that early resilience could even make it easier to enter the market. Bruce Friedrich runs The Good Food Institute, a non-profit that represents, supports, and sometimes lobbies on behalf of both plant-based meat companies and startups working on cell-cultured meat.

“The more we can get the conventional meat industry normalizing eating plant-based meats the better,” says Friedrich. “All of that will help make mainstream the idea of cell-based meats as an alternative to meat.”


Millions of Americans take vitamin D. Most should just stop.

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By Julia Belluz,

Americans love a quick health fix in pill form: something to protect against illness, with minimal effort. For years, one of the go-to supplements has been vitamin D, thought to do everything from preventing cancer to strengthening bones.

Some bad news: Yet another big meta-study adds to the pile of evidence that it’s useless for most people.

The new research, published in Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology, looked at 81 randomized trials on whether vitamin D prevents fractures and falls, and improves bone mineral density in adults.

The findings of the review were unequivocal. “There is little justification for the use of vitamin D supplements to maintain or improve musculoskeletal health,” the authors wrote, except in rare cases when patients are at high risk of or being treated for rickets and osteomalacia.

“Something like 40 percent of older adults in the US take vitamin D supplements because they think it’s going to prevent against fractures and falls or cancer,” said Alison Avenell, the clinical chair of health services research at the University of Aberdeen and an author on the Lancet study, “and we’re saying the supplements for fractures and falls aren’t going to do that.”

This new research builds on previous meta-studies and the large-scale randomized trials that have shown the fat-soluble hormone doesn’t prevent fractures and may not have a role in preventing cancer, but can increase the risk of kidney stones when taken along with calcium.

Of course, there are some cases when supplementation can be helpful: During pregnancy, for example, or for people who have been diagnosed with health conditions that may lead to vitamin deficiencies, like liver disease or multiple sclerosis. People who don’t get into the sun at all, like the homebound or institutionalized, may also be prescribed a supplement.

But for a health boost in people with no symptoms of deficiency, the tablet shows so little utility that doctors are even questioning why we bother measuring vitamin D levels in people who aren’t at risk of deficiency. Most of us actually get enough vitamin D without even trying.

So why all the hype about vitamin D?

The hype about the vitamin during the past two decades started with early vitamin D science. Before researchers run randomized controlled trials, they often look for links between health outcomes and exposures in large-scale population research called observational studies. And early observational research on the benefits of vitamin D uncovered associations between higher levels of vitamin D intake and a range of health benefits.

But the studies could only tell about correlations between vitamin D exposure and disease outcomes, not whether one caused the other. Still, they were enough to fuel media hype. Dr. Oz called the supplement “the number one thing you need more of.” And the vitamin D industry helped create a craze by paying prominent doctors to expound on the benefits of testing and supplementation for everyone.

But more recent randomized trials — that introduce vitamin D to one group and compare that group with a control group — have shown little or unclear benefit for both vitamin D testing and supplementation in the general population. And reviews that take these trials together to come to more fully supported conclusions, like the new Lancet paper, are similarly lackluster.

In 2010, the Institute of Medicine (now known as the National Academy of Medicine) brought together an expert committee to review the evidence on the vitamin and figure out whether there was a widespread deficiency problem in North America. According to the 14-member panel, 97.5 percent of the population got an adequate amount of vitamin D from diet and the sun. (Vitamin D occurs naturally in fatty fish such as salmon and tuna, beef liver, cheese, and egg yolks. It’s also found in fortified foods such as milk, orange juice, and cereal.)

“You are at risk of D deficiency only if you have no sun exposure, live above 55 degrees latitude, and do not eat vitamin D-fortified foods or fluids [like milk],” said Chris Gallagher, a professor of Medicine at Creighton University, who wrote a comment about the new Lancetpaper. “About 80 to 90 percent of vitamin D comes from sunlight, and even 15 minutes in the midday will boost vitamin D levels to a good level.”

Still, testing and supplementation have exploded in the US. Between 2000 and 2010, the amount Medicare spent on vitamin D testing rose 83-fold, making the test Medicare’s fifth most popular after cholesterol. All that screening also led to an explosion in vitamin D supplement use, and millions of Americans now pop daily vitamin D pills.

When I asked Avenell what she thinks about the fact that so many people are diagnosed with deficiencies, she said, “It can’t be the case that just about the entire population is deficient in Vitamin D. It’s such an important nutrient, the body must have ways of making sure it doesn’t get short.”


Fool’s Gold: What Fish Oil is Doing to our Health and the Planet

I have teaching my Nutrition clients for 20 years to NOT TAKE FISH OILS, or any other oil in supplement form. Fats and oils that are not in their original packaging (nuts, fish, avocado, seeds, etc.) are rancid.  They are rancid as soon as they are exposed to oxygen. They are oxidized, and that renders them carcinogenic.

There is no reason to ever take oils as supplements, it is easy to come by these nutrients by eating seafood, avocadoes, butter, etc. Ingesting fish oils do not protect you from heart disease. A balanced diet that meets your nutrient needs does that. Along with exercise.

Is the evidence for fish-eating better than simply taking a fish oil pill?

Omega-3 is one of our favourite supplements – but a huge new study has found it has little or no benefit for heart health or strokes. How did it become a $30bn business?

Is the evidence for fish-eating better than simply taking a fish oil pill? Composite: Getty

The omega-3 industry is in a twist. Again. Last week, Cochrane, an organisation that compiles and evaluates medical research for the general public, released a meta-analysis – a study of studies – to determine whether or not omega-3 pills, one of the world’s most popular dietary supplements, reduced the risk of coronary heart disease. After comparing 79 trials involving 112,059 people, the researchers could find “little or no difference to risk of cardiovascular events, coronary heart deaths, coronary heart disease events, stroke or heart irregularities”.

I can’t say that I was particularly surprised. Over the past 15 years, more than 20 studies have shown a similar lack of effect. But what does surprise me is how we continue to look at the world of fish and seafood through the amber lens of a fish oil capsule. Omega-3s do something in our bodies – and probably something important. But without the larger context of the marine organisms that contain them, omega-3s get lost in the noise of human metabolism and modern marketing.

The confusion arises in part from the historical baggage of fish oil and the $30bn (£23bn) industry associated with omega-3 extraction. Once upon a time, fish oil solved a major human health problem. But it had nothing to do with coronary heart disease. During the Industrial Revolution, a disease became increasingly prevalent throughout northern Europe: rickets. Malnourished children in sunlight-poor urban slums often ended up bowlegged by adolescence. Researchers eventually pieced the puzzle together and concluded that the disease was caused by a deficiency in vitamin D, which the body naturally generates in the presence of sunlight. And, as it turned out, vitamin D is stored in high amounts within the liver of codfish.

A Norwegian pharmacist named Peter Möller seized upon this finding (and many other anecdotal stories about the curative properties of cod-liver oil). Using a patented chemical process, he arrived at a product that, he announced to the world, “didn’t taste fishy”. Möller and his advertising team then launched a campaign to institutionalise the regular use of cod-liver oil, regardless of whether you were at risk of rickets or not. The campaign was a success: a spoonful a day became common practice. Möller built his company into an international presence and died in 1869 with 70 cod-liver oil steam factories to his name, churning out 5,000 barrels of the stuff a year. By the time omega-3s started to be a focus of medical research, there was already a rosy feeling around fish oil.

In the early 1970s, the chemist Hans Olaf Bang read in a Danish journal that there were extremely low incidences of cardiovascular disease in Inuit communities of Greenland. He and his assistant, Jørn Dyerberg, travelled to Uummannaq on the north-west coast of Greenland to investigate. At the time of the expedition, Bang didn’t quite know what he wanted to test for. They probed and palpated 130 local people, measured height and weight, and came home with a lot of blood.

“We had these 130 precious samples of blood,” Dyerberg told me in his lab in Copenhagen recently. They estimated that in 20 years, the traditional Inuit diet would have changed to the western diet, and Dyerberg remembers Bang saying: “‘There will never be anyone who can do this again, so let’s do whatever we can!’ And we decided to do fatty acid analysis.”

The result of their analysis was a hypothesis that is an exemplary “association study”. In an association study, multiple factors are logged and a hypothesis of correlation is drawn from the findings. In the case of the Bang and Dyerberg Inuit study, they found that: 1) Inuit people in Greenland had a diet high in omega-3 fatty acids and blood lipid levels of omega-3s much higher than their western contemporaries. 2) Inuit people also had, according to public health records, markedly lower rates of coronary heart disease. They hypothesised that therefore 3) omega-3s might reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.

This was backed up by further laboratory studies that did show, in vitro, that omega-3s were involved in anti-inflammatory reactions. But – and this is a big but – while correlations abound for omega-3s and heart disease, the real trouble has always been in showing causation. That is where this latest round of studies comes in.

The Cochrane study and the others that preceded it have one thing in common: they are meta-analyses of “randomised control trials” (RCTs). That is, trials where patients are given a supplement at random and tracked over time against another set of patients given a placebo. Most statisticians consider these trials to be the very top of the evidence pyramid. But it is these studies that have at times proven troublesome for Omega World. Each time RCTs come to light that show little or no effect, Omega World tends to blend its counterargument with evidence from association studies because, as a recent industry reply to the Cochrane report put it, “it’s all connected”.

When it then turns to the RCTs, the industry, as would be expected, looks for different explanations as to why positive health outcomes weren’t reported. In the burst of RCTs preceding Cochrane, the Omega World line was that these most recent trials did not show benefits because things such as statins, stents and other forms of cardiovascular intervention masked the anti-inflammatory effect of fish oil pills; earlier RCTs had shown a fairly significant effect, but none of those treatments existed at the time of those trials.

The industry also, and I believe rightly, pointed out that studies often failed to look at omega-3 blood lipid levels before and after supplementation. In other words, it’s not really a fair trial if you don’t know where the patients started with respect to the omega-3 levels in their blood. If we only measure effect without looking at omega-3 levels in the blood at the outset, aren’t we doing the dietary equivalent of testing how far a car can drive without checking how much petrol is in the tank at the start?

With Cochrane, the latest industry argument is that the study’s authors cut out a number of different forms of cardiac ailments, thus skewing the stats. In particular, it notes that Cochrane failed to include “sudden cardiac death” and “sudden cardiac mortality” in its list of outcomes. Since nearly half of all patients first report heart disease to their doctors by suddenly dropping dead, this is not an insignificant exclusion.

But the fact that the industry’s arguments shift with each new, damning meta-analysis gives you pause. What is going on? Is there an international conspiracy to discredit omega-3s? Or does Omega World keep moving the goalposts? When I posed this question to Ellen Schutt, the executive director of the Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3s, probably the world’s most prominent omega-3 advocacy organisation, she made it seem as if the problem didn’t even exist. “As a matter of fact, we track media sentiment … and have found many more positive omega-3 stories than negative, in general. Of course, the negative stories are the ones that catch people’s attention. As we both know, negative stories are much more interesting and the media is definitely guilty of sensationalist ‘clickbait’ headlines such as: ‘Omega-3s don’t work.’”

As sympathetic as I am to the trials of Omega World, as studies continue to poke holes in aspects of the omega-3 cardiovascular argument, I can’t help thinking there is something else going on. Because, while the fish oil supplement business is a big deal, it is also a sheen on the surface of a much deeper pond. Long before omega-3 supplements became popular, an industry arose that used the same omega-3-rich creatures not for medicine, but for an odd array of agricultural and industrial purposes.

Ultimately, it was this so-called “reduction industry” that created the oily-fish extraction system that now consumes millions of tonnes of marine wildlife every year. Today, one in every four kilograms of fish caught is reduced into oil and meal and used for agriculture, land animal husbandry and, most recently, fish farming, AKA aquaculture.

The reduction industry has appeared in different forms under different ownership over centuries of human history. In the 18th century, it targeted whales, reducing northern hemisphere cetacean populations into isolated pockets of endangered species in order to make lamp oil and lubricants. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, it shifted to the southern hemisphere, reducing 390,000 of the 400,000 great whales that once roamed the Southern Ocean to margarine, nitroglycerine and other “marine ingredients”.

In the latter half of the 20th century, it shifted again and targeted small, oily fish such as anchovies, sardines and herring. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, the largest reduction operation in human history arose off the coast of Peru in pursuit of the Peruvian anchoveta. The Peruvian anchoveta is by far the largest single species catch by tonnage in the world, some years comprising as much as 10% of all fish caught. And although Peruvian anchoveta are as delicious as any anchovy on Earth, an industry-influenced Peruvian law dictates that more than 95% of the catch must go to the reduction industry.

Each decade brings a different use for all those anchovies. In the 1940s, they were used for fertiliser. In the 50s and 60s, chicken feed. In the 70s, pet food and pig feed. In the 80s and 90s, aquafeed for salmon and other carnivorous fish. And now, the most elite product of the reduction industry: dietary supplements.

And it is not just Peruvian anchoveta that are reduced into fish meal and oil. All told, the reduction industry removes from the ocean 20m-25m tonnes annually – the equivalent of the combined weight of the population of the United States. The omega-3 industry argues that some vendors are turning to much more sustainable options, such as algae-based omega-3s and fish oil reclaimed from recycled byproducts.

Nevertheless, the reduction industry marches on into new territory. Most recently, it has begun targeting Antarctic krill, the keystone prey species of the entire Antarctic ecosystem. Two years ago, when I asked the then chief executive of the largest krill extractor in the world why it had launched a $200m fishing operation in the Southern Ocean to take food out of the mouths of whales, he noted that krill oil is a “phospholipid” and making it much more “bioavailable” means that consumers can take a much smaller pill. Why was this important? Consumers who chose krill oil over fish oil would be much less likely to suffer the horrors of a fishy burp.

Amid all the conflicting reports, there is one bit of data that shines out: fish and seafood can bring considerable health and environmental benefits. Fish, in addition to providing us with omega-3s, delivers protein with far fewer calories than meat: 100g of salmon contains 139 calories and 23g of protein. By comparison, 100g of beef contains 210 calories and 20g of protein.

Harvesting wild fish from well-managed stocks requires a fraction of the carbon as farming terrestrial livestock. Similarly, fish farming puts a lesser burden on the Earth in terms of carbon and freshwater use than pretty much any form of terrestrial animal husbandry. We could make the farming of fish even more carbon- and resource-efficient if we used alternative ingredients for fish food based on algae and food waste. And if you consider growing “filter feeders” such as mussels, clams and oysters, the benefits are even more extreme. These bivalves don’t have to be fed anything, and make water cleaner even as they grow fatter. They provide protein 30 times more efficiently than cattle.

Is the epidemiological evidence for fish-eating better than simply taking a fish oil pill? Again, we are stuck with the problem of correlation versus causation. It is very difficult to feed someone a fish in such a manner that they don’t know they are eating a fish. Hence an RCT of seafood-eating hasn’t really ever been done. Most of the studies around seafood are association studies. And, while one such study associated eating fish twice a week with a possible reduction in mortality of 55,000 lives a year, we don’t know what a fish-eater does with the rest of their life beyond eating fish.

But what we do know is this: the omega-3 industry and the reduction industry that bred it removes fish from the water in a way that doesn’t put protein on our plates – it just puts pills in our cupboards. Is this the way we want to continue to do business with the planet?

Paul Greenberg is the author of The Omega Principle: Seafood and the Quest for a Long Life and a Healthier Planet (Penguin Press).


Eating Processed Meats Has Been Linked to Serious Psychiatric Problems

Oh, great. Bacongate 2.0.

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MIKE MCRAE

19 JUL 2018

Nitrate-cured meats – things like beef jerky or bacon – have been linked to extensive periods of hyperactivity, insomnia, and attention loss in people experiencing manic episodes.

Research conducted by Johns Hopkins University on patients receiving care for manic symptoms found they were over three times more likely to have ever eaten processed meat products than patients being treated for other psychiatric conditions, such as schizophrenia.

“We looked at a number of different dietary exposures and cured meat really stood out,” says the study’s lead author Robert Yolken.

“It wasn’t just that people with mania have an abnormal diet.”

The exact mechanism behind the link isn’t yet clear, but a follow-up experiment on rats fed jerky with their plain old rat chow resulted in increased movement and altered signalling in their hippocampus.

Changes were also noted in the rats’ gut microflora, hinting at a possible stepping stone between the nitrates in the meat and effects on their nervous system.

Taken all together, the results provide a strong suggestion that a diet rich in many varieties of ham, jerky or salami just might play a role in the development of mania-related conditions in at least some people.

Bipolar disorder is a chronic mental health condition characterised by dramatic swings in mood and energy levels, including mania. Episodes can last weeks, or even months, and can coincide with depression and psychosis.

The condition affects as many as one in 25 people at some time in their life, significantly impacting productivity and taking a serious toll on personal and community wellbeing.

Surprisingly little is known about the condition’s causes. There are strong hints of a genetic predisposition, though as with most neurological conditions there’s a lot more going on than a wonky gene or two.

Environmental factors that affect early development, from infections to maternal smoking, have been explored as possible explanations. Stress, head injuries, and preterm births are also considered potential risk factors.

Diet is yet another area attracting significant attention, with studies suggesting a westernised diet and higher glycemic loads might contribute to the development of symptoms.

For this study, the researchers used medical records to categorise more than 700 volunteer patients as having either mania, bipolar depression, a major depressive disorder, or schizophrenia.

They gave each patient a survey that asked questions such as, “Have you ever eaten locally procured dry cured meat”? and “Have you ever eaten undercooked fish such as rare tuna?”

Those in the mania category had an unusually high number of patients who’d consumed processed meats.

“Future work on this association could lead to dietary interventions to help reduce the risk of manic episodes in those who have bipolar disorder or who are otherwise vulnerable to mania,” says Yolken.

The addition of nitrogen compounds in the form of sodium nitrite or potassium nitrate has been used to preserve meats for centuries, preventing decay, adding colour and reducing oxidation.

Nitrogen compounds in meat products have been linked with cancer in the past (never forget the great Bacongate of 2015 when the World Health Organization changed the carcinogen classification of processed meats).

But in this case it’s the nitrogen compounds’ influence on bacteria in our gut that could end up being the culprit. And this isn’t the first time nitrates in processed meats have been found to affect our health via our personal microbes.

Variations in microflora were deemed responsible for an overzealous digestion of nitrates in the diets of people who experienced migraines, causing their blood vessels to dilate more than usual and cause intense pain.

Our brains and the bacteria in our guts have a complicated relationship, one we’re still learning more about as we find connections between our bugs and our emotional state, the development of Parkinson’s disease, and even risk of strokes.  

So, it wouldn’t be a total shocker if further research confirms manic symptoms in bipolar can be exacerbated or even caused by certain microflora reacting to nitrates in our meats.

None of this means you need to ditch the jerky entirely. But to those who experience manic episodes, this might be useful information to perhaps help make their issues a little less severe.

This research was published in Molecular Psychiatry.