Home Posts tagged "Omega-3"

Holistic Farming: A Wholesome Choice

It's been a while since we featured a nutrition post, so today, Cressey Sports Performance Coach Andrew Zomberg takes the baton and brings nutrition back to the forefront. Enjoy! - EC

From a production standpoint, most farms focus on maximization. Big farms. Big concrete barns. Lots of cows. Lots of food. But this mentality only sees profit and neglects the economic, social, and environmental realities of these decisions. Fortunately, some farmers recognize the need to change and sustain our ecosystems.

I have the pleasure of buying a lot of my meat from Steve Normanton. A farmer since the ripe age of 8, Steve learned the livestock trade in South Africa and recently established himself as a full-time farmer in Litchfield, NH. His holistic farming system mirrors nature in a way that builds fertility in the soil, treats the animals humanely, and produces healthy food. He takes the focus away from yield maximization and puts it towards input optimization.

According to Holistic Management International, holistic farming is a whole planning system that helps farmers better manage agricultural resources in order to reap sustainable environmental, economic, and social benefits. This practice allows farmers to guide the relationships between plants, soil, livestock, people, and water in ways that mimic nature, while addressing the financial aspects of these unique elements. “The concept of holistic management takes into account the well being of everything involved,” says Steve. “It is not just about end product because in order to get this end product, you must better the whole.”

The term “organic” is such a buzzword, so I questioned the difference between organic farming and holistic farming. Apparently, while “organic” is a great place to start, it only refers to the end product, or the food we put into our mouths.

“Take organic dairy,” Steve suggests. “Sure, it is organic because the feed that the cows eat is organic. But cows are not designed to consume loads of grain. The grain (which fattens the cattle) turns a cow’s stomach very acidic. This toxic environment manifests super e-coli, which humans cannot tolerate.” Cows are meant to roam free and eat grass, and Steve Normanton Farm values this, allowing animals to exist they way they should.

Holistic planning not only respects the animals, but uses their natural tendencies to keep land healthy and productive. For example, pigs are not thrown in concrete barns. They graze freely to root their nutrients, receiving 70% of their diet from underground. This nurtures biologically active soil (loaded with carbon and other organic matter) that attracts all that’s good, including water molecules. This increases the grazing capacity for the livestock and reduces the impact of erosion on the farm.

“If the soil is healthy, the grasses are healthy and we are providing better food for the animals” says Steve. “And remember, we are at the end of the food chain, so healthier animals means healthier food for us.”

Why am I writing this article? As a nutrition enthusiast, I encourage people to make the healthiest choices. Holistic farms nurture their soils and grasses for the welfare of their animals to produce high-quality, nutrient-dense food, which:

• Has a high concentration of beneficial fatty acids and a healthier ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids (omega-3s in beef that feed on grass is 7% of the “total fat” content)
• Is lower in total fat – especially saturated fat; leaner meat leads to lower LDL levels and lower in total energy (calories)
• Comprised of many micronutrients including: beta-carotene and Vitamin E (antioxidants), B-vitamins (thiamin & riboflavin) and minerals: calcium, magnesium and potassium (electrolytes)
• Has high levels of Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA, a fat found in meat & milk)

Further, the animals themselves are healthier, demanding less (if any) antibiotic treatment. They have minimal risk of contamination from dangerous bacteria because they aren’t confined in tight, crowded conditions. And most importantly, the animals are raised without added hormones, antibiotics, or steroids. (Exposure to chemicals and pesticides increases our chances of suffering from metabolic conditions such as obesity, insulin resistance, autoimmune disorders, and more).

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The choice to buy from holistic farms is also economically smart. The dollar stays in our community and contributes to the growth and stability of the American economy. And sure, short-term, holistic management yields healthy food. But long-term, these farms enhance the biological diversity and productivity of our land. When we buy from these farms, we help mirror the way nature functions, sustaining the environment that sustains us all.

Food is always at our fingertips. But as consumers, we can help move away from conventional thinking and our way of eating and understand the situation. So next time you need to stock up your refrigerator, I encourage you to make decisions that feed your body right as well as emulate the way nature functions to ensure that our future is truly sustainable over time.

You can learn more about Steve and his farm at http://stevenormanton.com. For holistic farms in your area, visit http://www.eatwild.com.

Looking for more nutrition insight like these?  Be sure to check out The High Performance Handbook Nutrition Guide by Brian St. Pierre of Precision Nutrition; it's available as part of the gold package of this resource.

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Omega-3 Madness: Clarifying Recent Fish Oil “Research”

Today, I have a fantastic guest post from Dr. Hector Lopez, an expert in the world of nutritional supplements.  This post comes in response to a mainstream media report (you can read it here) that called into question the benefits of fish oil.  Hector and I had emailed privately about the concerns he had with this study, and I asked if he'd be willing to share his feelings with a larger audience.  Enjoy! -EC


I have been asked for my professional opinion on the recent attention drawn to the September 2012 systematic review and meta-analysis published in the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association by Rizos EC et al [1].

As you can imagine, the few days have been very busy answering emails/calls from various stakeholders in the dietary supplement and omega-3 fish oil industries. The stakeholders range from friends and family to fellow scientists and colleagues, to high-level executives and principals of client companies. I have a few things to say about the manner (at times disingenuous) in which the meta-analysis has been misrepresented.

Multiple video segments from major media outlets have even quoted some of their experts as saying, “they would rather the public spend their money elsewhere as the proof is in with this study.” Perhaps they would feel more at ease suggesting the consumption of another box of "whole-grain" yet low fiber, highly processed cereal, "natural fruit juice," or better yet, "linoleate-rich vegetable oils full of omega-6 fatty acids” (hey, they are polyunsaturated too, right)? ☺

I don't mind the media sharing their opinion, but at the very least, they should attempt to educate the very audience that they are obviously trying to persuade. I find it hard to believe that the public would not be interested in some other material facts to allow consumers to make an informed decision:

1. Out of over 3600 clinical studies and citations retrieved, ONLY 20 were used in this "analysis."

2. The absence of statistically significant association in these 20 studies between omega-3 and cardiovascular disease (CVD) endpoints does not prove that a significant reduction of CVD with omega-3 does not occur.

3. These 20 studies were on a diseased population that were already using multiple cardiovascular drugs such as beta-blockers, statins, niacin, fibrates, resins, and anti-thrombotics - all of which clearly confound outcomes/ endpoints of interest to dilute and wash-out effects of long-chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA). Fish oil at this low dose was likely "too little, too late" to show any statistically significant benefit.

4. A similar meta-analysis on secondary prevention was published earlier this year [2].  And, clearly, the older studies showed benefit as these patients were likely not on as many cardio-protective medications. Hence, their was less of a "washout" in effect size.


5. A mean dose of less than 1.4g of EPA + DHA (the fish oils) was used in all 20 studies. This dose is typically far too low to compensate for the overabundance of omega-6 PUFA and imbalance in omega-6:omega-3 consumption in standard western diets. It’s no surprise that previous studies showing benefit of omega-3 fish oil in heart disease have utilized at least 2g of EPA + DHA. Future studies should also take this into consideration. In addition, future studies should attempt to carry out prospective data collection beyond two years.

6. There was no mention, consideration or control for background dietary intake of EPA/DHA or tissue fatty acids profiles. The researchers did not control for this important variable within each individual study included in this meta-analysis, and as a result, there is no way to determine if placebo groups already had sufficient levels of omega-3 in their diet or tissue, which would make it harder to demonstrate treatment effects of fish oil.

7. Clearly, these 20 studies were not adequately powered to detect changes in the CVD endpoints with omega-3 long-chain-PUFA, even if they were in fact present.

8. Interesting, despite all these flaws, based on the Confidence Interval data, there was still a "trend" toward cardioprotection! This was observed in terms of sudden death, myocardial infarction, cardiac and all-cause mortality. In other words, the data in this article still trended toward decreased risk of various cardiovascular disease outcomes. However, the headlines wouldn't be juicy enough, though, so that was clearly glazed over. Hmm...

9. Sure, most Americans should eat more fish (in their whole food diet), but honestly, how many actually do? Where is the press coverage or meta-analyses looking at PCB/ Dioxin/ Persistent Organic Pollutants/Heavy Metal exposure? I suppose that when this omega-3 story dies down, the environmental toxin exposure story can quickly fill that void.

10. The findings of this selective meta-analysis are in direct conflict with the totality of the scientific evidence that demonstrates a cardiovascular benefit from fish oil in healthy populations, as well as in many of the populations with pre-existing CVD [3-10]. Consumers and health care providers alike continue to feel confident in the use of high-quality omega-3 fish oil for not only cardiovascular benefit, but also for supporting the health of just about every organ system in the body. The long chain omega-3 essential fatty acids found in fish oil are critical for everything from the cardiovascular system to the brain and nervous system, immune system, skin, joint and musculoskeletal tissues, to carbohydrate and lipid metabolism and beyond [11-19].

Finally, there is the issue of the potential mega-misrepresentation created by meta-analyses. It is evident that study selection criteria - as well as data extraction/synthesis - may allow researchers to make assumptions of consistency in the design individual studies included in the meta-analysis. As such, these assumptions may lead the authors – or worse, the less discerning media– to drawing erroneous conclusions. These erroneous conclusions then get virally disseminated throughout the general public. Doesn’t this string of events sound eerily familiar?

About the Author
 
Dr. Lopez is recognized for applying his uniquely diverse expertise in spine and sports medicine, endocrinology and metabolism, nutrition & exercise science, and clinical research to improving not only the health and quality of life in his patients, but also athletic performance in recreational and elite athletes. Dr. Lopez received his specialty training at the world-renowned Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine-Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago. He is currently a principal and the Chief Medical Officer of the Center for Applied Health Sciences, a multidisciplinary Clinical Research Organization in Ohio, and Supplement Safety Solutions, a Nutravigilance, Quality Assurance/Safety and Regulatory consulting company focused on dietary supplement/nutraceutical industry. An international speaker, author of popular press and peer-reviewed scientific journal articles, product developer, he consults for the nutritional supplement industry and professional athletes from the NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, and Martial Arts. You can follow him on Twitter at @DrHectorLopez.

Note: You can find references for this entire article in the first post in the comments section below.

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