Vitamin D and Omega-3 Supplements on The Paleo Diet

Choosing a Paleo diet and eating more in tune with how we’ve evolved provides the body with a robust amount of essential protein, healthy fats, gluten-free carbohydrates and nutrient dense veggies. An ancestral approach to eating also provides your body with key nutrients, vitamins and minerals the way nature intended. Does this mean that supplementation is unnecessary if you’re following a Paleo lifestyle? It’s a complicated question.

Most articles and blogs about supplements inevitably discuss the benefits or drawbacks of multi-vitamins. Research shows that if you eat a diet centered around the most nutrient dense foods – quality meats, veggies and fats – you’ll likely already be achieving a therapeutic dose for most vitamins and minerals. When intake is at a supra-physiological dose (that can never be found in nature), too many vitamins can actually put you at risk of chronic disease. Does this mean if you’re following a Paleo diet you don’t need any supplements?

Let’s look at the two most common instances where supplementation might still be a good idea, vitamin D and omega-3 fats. In both of these cases, although a Paleo diet is a great place to start, for many people this may not be enough.

SHOULD YOU SUPPLEMENT WITH VITAMIN D?

Vitamin D is classically known as an essential nutrient for bone health and immunity, however new research shows this fat-soluble vitamin has much more profound impacts on your health and well-being.

How important is vitamin D? Dr. Michael Holick, physician and vitamin D expert sums it up. “Imagine what would happen if a drug company came out with single pill that reduces the risk of cancer, heart attack, stroke, osteoporosis, PMS, depression and various autoimmune conditions? There would be a media frenzy the likes of which has never been seen before! Such a drug exists… it’s the sun.”1, 2, 3

Vitamin D is different than other vitamins because it’s created under your skin when ultraviolet light from the sun interacts with a specific enzyme to form cholecalciferol or vitamin D3. However, exposure to daily sunlight is no longer the norm as we are cooped up in cubicles all day and the deeply ingrained ancestral benefits of light exposure are overlooked.

It’s estimated that up to 70% of the American population is deficient in vitamin D (defined as blood levels below 20ng/mL or 50 nmol/L), or suffering from vitamin D insufficiency, a level above a diagnosed deficiency but still not sufficient for good health (measured as 20-32 ng/mL or 50-80nmol/L). 4

If you live in a northern climate with a true winter season, or north of the 49th parallel, it’s very difficult to achieve the required blood levels of vitamin D from food alone. While cold-water fatty fish, eggs and mushrooms are good foods sources of vitamin D, in the dead of winter they’re likely not enough. Adding a supplement can be highly beneficial.

The standard medical recommendation for vitamin D drops is 1,000-2,000 IU per day, however in the darkest winter months you may need a higher dose. Remember, always get your blood levels tested and work with a doctor if you’re thinking of supplementing with more than the recommended dose. The normal range is typically between 32-50ng/mL (80-125nmol/L) and for athletes new research suggests achieving levels greater than 40ng/mL (100nmol/L) to support superior performance and recovery.5 Be sure to take your vitamin D supplement with a meal that includes fat for optimal absorption.

SHOULD YOU SUPPLEMENT WITH FISH OILS?

Extra long-chain fats eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are the omega-3 ‘all-stars’ when it comes to supporting overall health and combating chronic disease. While most people know the benefits of omega-3 fats for cardiovascular health, many don’t realize they also help reduce the risk of diabetes and depression, protect against mental stress, and even support athletic performance by improving muscle protein synthesis and controlling excessive inflammation.

How important are omega-3 fats? In 2013, the Cardiovascular Healthy Study found that people with the highest omega-3 (e.g. EPA and DHA) levels in their blood had the lowest overall mortality rates.6 In short, the more omega-3 fats you consume, the less chance you have of dying from absolutely any cause. The good news is they are found in abundance in a Paleo diet (e.g. grass-fed meats, wild ocean fish, farm fresh eggs). However, modern day living and long, busy days might mean you’ll benefit from extra support.

If you’re prone to low mood or depression, or cope with regularly high stress levels fish oils could well be an important key to improving your brain health. A study in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry found people experiencing depression had consistently lower levels of essential fatty acids in their blood. When subjects supplemented with fish oils they had significant improvements in their Hamilton Rating Scale, a recognized evaluation system for depression.7 The British Journal of Nutrition also discovered that supplementing with fish oils helps reduce the adrenal over-activation associated with high levels of mental stress.8

Rates of diabetes and pre-diabetes have never been higher, and constantly being on the go is just one factor that can lead to snacking on convenience foods that are high in processed carbs and sugars. A recent study of fish oil supplementation effects on blood sugar and insulin levels over a 3-week period found significant improvements in insulin function in those with elevated levels.9

Of course, it’s not enough just to increase your omega-3 intake. It’s far too easy to obtain excessive amounts of omega-6 type fats in today’s world, whether from processed foods, restaurant eating, or convenience snacks. The beauty of adopting a Paleo diet is that it often naturally restores this common imbalance. However, the impacts of modern living may still leave you short.

Unless you’re eating 1-2 pieces of cold, deep-water fatty fish daily, it’s best to add an omega-3 supplement rich in EPA/DHA. Fish oil is the richest in EPA and DHA, however krill oil, sea oil, and sea algae are all viable options as well. Aim to supplement with 1,000-1,500mg of combined EPA and DHA daily.

If you’re an athlete and training intensely fish oil supplementation can be a game changer. Supplementation can lead to an amazing 50% increase in the up-regulation of mTOR, the genetic signaling pathway that stimulates lean muscle growth, leading to significant increases in muscle protein synthesis and muscular hypertrophy.10If you’re serious about your training, adding extra omega-3 fats to your sports nutrition arsenal is important.

A Paleo diet is a great way to cover all your bases on the nutrition front. However, depending on your genetics, where you live, how busy you are, and your lifestyle, diet may not be enough to correct low or insufficient levels of vitamin D and omega-3 fats. Adding these two supplements into your regime, particularly throughout the winter months, may be the fix you need to improve your health, productivity at work and performance in the gym.

(This article originally appeared @ThePaleoDiet.com)

Dr. Marc Bubbs ND, CISSN, CSCS

Want to learn more? Listen to Paleo founder Dr. Loren Cordain PhD in episode #10 of the Dr. Bubbs Performance Podcast.

 

Check out more articles in the "IMMUNITY" SERIES...

Check out more articles in the "VITAMIN DEFICIENCY" SERIES...

REFERENCES

  1. Holick M.Vitamin D Deficiency:What A Pain It Is. Mayo Clin Proc 2003 78(12):1457-59Holick, M. Article Review: Vitamin D Deficiency. NEJM Medical Progress. 2007, 357:266-81.
  2. Holick, M. Shinning A Light On Vitamin D-Cancer Connection IARC Report. Dermato-Endocrinology, 2009 1(1):4-6
  3. Hanley D, Davison, K. Symposium: Vitamin D Insufficiency: A significant risk Factor in Chronic Disease and Potential Disease-Specific Biomarkers of Vitamin D Insufficiency: Vitamin D Insufficiency in North America. J Nutr 2005, 135:332-37
  4. Koundourakis, N et al. Vitamin D and Exercise Performance in Professional Soccer Players. Plos One. 2014 Jul 3;9(7):e101659.
  5. Mozaffarian D, Lemaitre RN, King IB, et al. Plasma phospholipid long-chain omega-3 fatty acids and total and cause-specific mortality in older adults. A cohort study. Ann Intern Med 2013; 158:515-525.
  6. Su K, Huang S, Chiu C, Shen W. Omega-3 fatty acids in major depressive disorder. A preliminary double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Eur Neuropsychopharmacol 2003;13(4):267-271
  7. Delarue J et al. Fish oil attenuates adrenergic overactivity without altering glucose metabolism during an oral glucose load in haemodialysis patients. Br J Nutr. 2008 May;99(5):1041-7.
  8. Delarue J et al. Interaction of fish oil and a glucocorticoid on metabolic responses to an oral glucose load in healthy human subjects. Br J Nutr. 2006 Feb;95(2):267-72.
  9. Smith GI et al. Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids augment the muscle protein anabolic response to hyperinsulinaemia-hyperaminoacidaemia in healthy young and middle-aged men and women. Clin Sci (Lond). 2011 Sep;121(6):267-78.

Can Paleo Improve Low Mood and Depression?

Low mood and depression are increasingly prevalent symptoms of 21st century living. While the current statistics from the Center for Disease Control show one in ten people suffer from depression, in clinical practice we see much higher rates of people struggling with unreported low mood or depressive symptoms.

The World Health Organization has estimated that by the year 2050, one-third of the global population will suffer from either anxiety or depression. What is going on? Why are we more prone to depression today than in generations past?

As with any complex condition, there are many factors at play that conspire to create an environment where low mood and depression can thrive. Let’s look at how a Paleo diet can lay the framework for better mental health by addressing influential systems of the body.

AVOID BLOOD SUGAR AND INSULIN DYSFUNCTION

Today, 75% of the North American population are classified as overweight or obese and the annual consumption of processed and simple sugars tops a whopping 160 pounds of sugar per person. This leads to worsening blood sugar control and insulin dysfunction. Research from Scandinavia has uncovered a clear association between elevated HbA1c (a three-month average of blood sugars) and insulin levels with increased risk of depression. A recent study found that young men with insulin resistance were three times more likely to suffer from severe depression.1

Another study in Diabetes Care of over 4,000 people showed depressive symptoms were associated with higher fasting and 30-minute insulin levels.2 The authors specifically noted that antidepressant medications did not alter this association because the medications target neurotransmitters (e.g. serotonin, dopamine) and do not address blood sugar and insulin dysfunction.

Adopting a Paleo diet can dramatically improve blood sugars and insulin levels, an important first step for reducing risk factors for low mood and depression.

COOL LOW-GRADE SYSTEMIC INFLAMMATION

Inflammation is another potential root cause of low mood. Low-grade systemic inflammation leads to the over-production of pro-inflammatory cytokines that are associated with depression.3 The prestigious New England Journal of Medicine recently published a review of the growing connection between chronic inflammation and the development of today’s most common chronic diseases, including depression.4 The current medical literature tells us that if you are overweight or obese, you likely have low-grade systemic inflammation.5

A Paleo diet’s high nutrient density provides a robust intake of antioxidants that help to cool inflammation and reduce the damaging effects of reactive oxygen species (ROS) produced during the inflammatory response. A Paleo diet is also a rich source of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats that support positive mood. Studies show low levels of omega-3 fats are associated with a chronic stress state and increased risk of depression.6

PROMOTE A HEALTHY GUT

The microflora of the gut plays a key role in your health and is in constant communication with the brain. Key neurotransmitters targeted by medications for improving symptoms of depression – serotonin and dopamine – are actually concentrated in the gut. The research shows that if you are overweight, you will likely have poor zonulin function, a key molecule that regulates gut permeability.(7)Poor zonulin function leads to symptoms of a leaky gut, which exacerbates inflammatory levels and can contribute to the cytokine storm that leads to low mood and depression.

You don’t need to be overweight to suffer from leaky gut. The research is clear that chronic or excessive use of NSAIDs – non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs – like ibuprofen and naproxen are also a direct cause of leaky gut, which will worsen inflammation.8,9A Paleo approach to eating supports the growth of good gut bacteria and, therefore, superior intestinal health.

OVERCOME A SEDENTARY LIFESTYLE

Movement is a critical component of mental health and overall wellbeing. Busy workdays make it difficult for people to find time to exercise, however this is a critical component of any mental health plan. A recent meta-analysis of 92 studies on more than 4,310 people showed that light to moderate exercise significantly reduced the incidence of depression.10 Try adding 15-20 minute walks at lunch or the end of your day to increase your activity level.

Strength training can also play a key role in mental health. Basic movements like squatting, lunging, bending, pushing, and pulling are deeply engrained in our DNA and exert tremendous positive benefit on multiple systems of the body: improving blood sugars and insulin, reducing inflammation, boosting testosterone (low levels have been associated with depression), and supporting healthy gut flora. If you’re not active, start slowly with 10-20 minutes of strength training 2-3 times weekly and focus on bodyweight type movements.

There is no “magic bullet” to fix depression. It’s a complex multi-factorial condition that is impacted by numerous systems of the body. By addressing blood sugar imbalances, weight gain, inflammation and dysbiosis, a Paleo diet can provide the body with the building blocks it needs to support positive mood.

If you suffer from depression, talk to your doctor about how you can incorporate a Paleo Diet and exercise, along with treatment into your action plan.

(This article originally appeared @ThePaleoDiet.com)

 Dr. Marc Bubbs ND, CISSN, CSCS

Want to learn more? High blood sugar and insulin levels are strongly associated with depression. Listen to diabetes expert Dr. Jason Fung MD in Episode #15.

 

Check out more articles in the PALEO SERIES...

REFERENCES

1. Timonen. M et al. Insulin resistance and depressive symptoms in young adult males: Findings from Finnish military conscripts. Psychosom Med 69(8):723-28.

2. Pyykkonen AJ et al. Depressive symptoms, antidepressant medication use, and insulin resistance: the PPP-Botnia Study. Diabetes Care. 2011 Dec;34(12):2545-7.

3. Felger J, Lotrich FE. Inflammatory cytokines in depression: neurobiological mechanisms and therapeutic implications. Neuroscience. 2013 Aug 29;246:199-229.

4. Emerging Risk Factors Collaboration. Diabetes mellitus, fasting glucose, and risk of cause-specific death. New England Journal Medicine, Mar 2011;364;9:328-341.

5. G. S. Hotamisligil, N. S. Shargill, and B. M. Spiegelman, “Adipose expression of tumor necrosis factor-α: direct role in obesity-linked insulin resistance,” Science, vol. 259, no. 5091, pp. 87–91, 1993.

6. Larrieu T, et al. Nutritional omega-3 modulates neuronal morphology in the prefrontal cortex along with depression-related behaviour through corticosterone secretion. Transl Psychiatry. 2014 Sep 9;4:e437.

7. Moreno-Navarrete JM et al. Circulating zonulin, a marker of intestinal permeability, is increased in association with obesity-associated insulin resistance.. PLos One 2012;7(5):e37160.

8. VanWijck K et al. Aggravation of exercise-induced intestinal injury by Ibroprofen in athletes. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2012 Dec;44(12):2257-62.

9. Matsui H et al. The pathophysiology of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID)-induced mucosal injuries in stomach and small intestine. J Clin Biochem Nutr. 2011 Mar;48(2):107-11.

10. Rebar A, et al. A Meta-Meta-Analysis of the effect of physical activity on depression and anxiety in non-clinical adult populations. Health Psychol Rev. 2015 Mar 5:1-78.

7 Impressive Benefits of The Paleo Diet

What do our ancient Paleolithic ancestors have in common with us today?  Scientific genetic research displays evidence that the human DNA genome has changed less than 0.02 percent in the last 40,000 years.  Our genes have adapted in a world where all our daily food was either hunted, fished, or gathered from the natural environment.  Today's food choices are highly processed, loaded with sugars and sweeteners, and largely derived from animals fed poor diets in equally poor living conditions. We need to give our bodies the foods we were originally designed to eat in order to achieve our ideal bodies, better energy and vitality, and improve digestion, immunity and overall health.

How can the Paleo Diet help you achieve this? Here is a quick rundown of how it corrects seven common problems with the typical western diet;

1. Not Enough Protein

Protein consumption in Western countries makes up only 15% of the total calories consumed.  Protein consumption enhances immune function, improves satiety, increases lean mass, increases metabolic rate,  and regulates insulin levels.

2. Too Much of the Wrong Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates make up more than half of the typical Western diet, most of these refined carbohydrates, a considerable increase from our Paleo ancestors.  As well, the average person consumes about 120 lbs of sugar annually, compared to only 15 lbs per year a century ago.

3. Not Enough Fiber

Calorie for calorie, whole grains cannot hold a candle to vegetables and fruits.  Non-starchy vegetables have eight timesmore fiber than whole grains and fruit averages more than twice as much fiber content than whole grains.

4. Too Much Bad Fat

Clinical research has shown that is not how much fat you eat, but what kind of fat you eat that impacts overall health, well-being, and weight lose.  Healthy fats are essential for optimum hormonal balance, satiety, weight loss, and immune health.

5. Too Much Salt

Paleo diets were exceptionally rich in potassium and low in sodium.  Whole foods such as meats, fish, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds contain about five to ten times more potassium than sodium.  The average Western person consumes twice as much sodium as potassium.

6. Acid-Base Imbalance

The typical Western diet is slightly acidic.  Eating too many acid forming foods and not enough alkaline foods can contribute to poor health, weak bones, muscle loss and aging. Vegetables and fruits are alkalinizing to the body, promoting balance and health.

7. Insufficient vitamins, minerals, and anti-oxidants

The bioavailability of vitamins and minerals are much higher in wild game meats, vegetables and fruits.  Grains contain ‘anti-nutrients’ such as phytates that inhibit absorption of nutrients.

Remember, you don't have to convert to a 100% Paleo lifestyle, take your time and slowly integrate changes into your diet for the best results (i.e. start with breakfast). A better brain, better body and better performance will soon follow.

Dr Marc Bubbs ND, CISSN, CSCS

Want to learn more? Listen to Paleo founder Dr. Loren Cordain PhD in Episode #10 of the Dr. Bubbs Performance Podcast!