Ask The Expert
By Dan Lukaczer, ND
Fish Benefits, Sans Fish
Q: I want the benefits of good fats in fish, but I don't eat fish. What should I supplement with?
A: That's a somewhat complicated question to answer because it depends on why you're taking a supplement. Many Americans get insufficient amounts of the healthy omega-3 fats found abundantly in cold-water fish such as mackerel, salmon, trout and tuna. I often recommend omega-3 supplements to patients with a condition that could stem from a lack of these beneficial fats, such as arthritis, asthma, colitis, eczema or psoriasis. Many authorities believe the American diet has an imbalanced intake ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats, which may contribute to a host of health issues.
A maintenance-dose-range recommendation comes from a report published recently in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Researchers at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston tracked for 14 years the dietary habits and subsequent health problems of 80,000 women. They estimated that women who regularly ate fish rich in omega-3 oils significantly cut their stroke risk. In fact, women who consumed the most omega-3 fats had a 28 percent reduced likelihood of suffering a stroke. Those women said they ate fish two to four times a week. The average amount of the important fats eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) in a serving of cold-water fish, such as salmon, is about 300 mg and 200 mg, respectively. Therefore, it seems reasonable that women who don't like fish may want to take capsules totaling about 180 mg/day of EPA and 120 mg/day of DHA—a common capsule amount—to achieve that type of protection. Men would need somewhat higher levels because on average they are bigger.
Get The Lead Out
Q: I grew up in a house with walls covered in lead-based paint. I don't know if I've absorbed any, but would like to be checked out. What is the best way to test for lead toxicity?
A: Lead is a toxic substance that's ubiquitous in the environment and has been linked to a variety of health conditions. Lead affects the nervous system, and even low-level exposure has been associated with reduced intelligence scores, lowered school achievement scores and learning disorders.
The acceptable level of lead exposure has been lowered repeatedly during the past 20 years, each time because it has been discovered that even smaller and smaller concentrations can cause subtle changes in learning and health.
In cases of short-term acute exposure, such as from industrial sources, blood and urine tests are the best way to detect lead toxicity. Otherwise, assess the lead level in your hair. In 1979, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency published an authoritative study concluding that hair analysis is a useful tool for determining long-term exposure to toxic elements. Use a reputable lab to ensure accurate results. Reports come back in parts per million, so there's little room for error.
Dan Lukaczer, ND, is director of clinical services at the Functional Medicine Research Center, a division of HealthComm International Inc., in Gig Harbor, Washington.