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Fish Oil Update: Part 1
An interview with Gary F. Gordon, M.D., D.O., M.D.(H)
By Richard A. Passwater, Ph.D.
I have known Dr. Garry Gordon since 1975, and we have several things in common that apply to this month’s topic. We both have lectured extensively on nutrition since 1975, we are both avid students of the scientific literature, and we both have written books about fish oil and omega-3 fats. My book on fish oil (EPA- Marine Lipids, Keats Publ. 1982) was the first, while Dr. Gordon’s book, The Omega-3 Miracle - The Icelandic Longevity Secret (written with Herb Joiner-Bey, Freedom Press, 2005) is the best-selling.
OK, now guess what this column will focus on. Right. Since several of my recent columns, especially those with Dr. Stephen Sinatra, a board-certified cardiologist, have mentioned the importance of fish oil to artery health and the reduction of inflammation, I have been wanting to provide more information on fish oil and omega-3 fats in more detail.
Well, not too long ago I was switching TV channels when I came across Dr. Gordon talking about his book and omega-3 oils. Who would be better than to chat with him about the newest findings relating to fish oil? After all, Dr. Gordon, has made a career specializing in heart disease research and research on fish oil. The only reason I haven’t chatted with my old friend in these pages before is that he is usually too far ahead in his research to have practical information that we can put right to use. As somewhat of an example, in a second column, we will discuss Dr. Gordon’s latest research with RNA. This emerging line of research is already yielding some very interesting results.
One thought jumps into my mind every time I see Dr. Gordon. This man has the most thorough and up-to-date, state-of-the art encyclopedic mind of any physician I have ever met. I know that the reason he just doesn’t sit back quietly and practice conventional medicine with patients coming in for office visits and merely receiving standard pharmaceuticals is that Dr. Gordon is driven by the knowledge of what can be done rather than what is routinely done. He must practice medicine at the cutting edge of knowledge rather than 10-year old medicine.
Garry F. Gordon, M.D., D.O., M.D.(H), received his doctorate of osteopathy in 1958 from the Chicago College of Osteopathy in Illinois. He received his honorary M.D. degree from the University of California Irvine in 1962 and completed his radiology residency from Mt. Zion in San Francisco, CA in 1964. For many years, he was the medical director of Mineral Lab in Hayward, CA, a leading laboratory for trace mineral analysis worldwide.
Dr. Gordon is co-founder of the American College for Advancement in Medicine (ACAM). He is founder/president of the International College of Advanced Longevity (ICALM) and a board member of the International Oxidative Medicine Association (IOMA). In addition, he is associated with the Gordon Research Institute, located in Payson, AZ.
Passwater: Dr. Gordon, the last time I bumped into you was at a scientific meeting and I asked you what you know, after all these years of study, to be the single most important aspect in preventing artery and heart disease. You responded, “Blood viscosity.” Do you feel that blood viscosity is still the single most important heart and artery factor that we can influence?
Gordon: Actually, Dr. Passwater, I think I would now say that blood viscosity is one of the single most important heart and artery factors that is unfortunately being largely ignored to the detriment of our patients. The exciting thing is that most of the natural interventions we already believe in have been validated to help lower blood viscosity although not nearly enough in many patients. This includes stopping smoking, exercising, using omega-3 supplements, and having regular menstrual periods. All of these can favorably lower blood viscosity. As you know, menstruating women tend to be completely protected against fatal heart attacks. We find this is because routinely menstruating women tend to have extremely favorable low blood viscosity readings. Of course, women tend to outlive men anyway. Many think this is partially due to the lower level of iron women have throughout their lifetime. However, it now appears that the loss of blood itself has another separate action that helps to lower blood viscosity. It seems that this is because the new replacement blood cells are softer and more flexible just as new babies are soft and flexible, and this is less abrasive to the inner lining of the blood vessels as these cells flow through the blood vessels.
It is my hope that the Rheologic test or something like it will become widely available to physicians practicing in the United States soon. I’m convinced we can save many lives because there is such a strong correlation between elevated viscosity and later developing serious health problems. This makes testing blood pressure or cholesterol seem relatively unimportant. Interestingly, the research we did involving blood viscosity testing has indicated that generally physicians involved in alterative and/or anti-aging medicine, who clearly believe in more natural approaches to health and far fewer drugs, routinely have far more favorable blood viscosity readings than the typical allopathic physician. It is very dramatic how high the viscosity readings are on many who are relying on drugs to help prevent heart disease, including statins, antihypertensive meds and so-called blood thinners.
Passwater: Please explain for our readers what you mean by controlling blood viscosity.
Gordon: When I’m discussing blood viscosity, I am talking about trying to keep the fluid we call our blood more like wine and less like tomato catsup or honey. This is fairly obvious. If you think of it, if all the blood in your body was the same thickness as honey, clearly your heart would have an incredibly hard job to do to push that thick fluid out of the heart and through our thousands of miles of blood vessels. If the blood coursing through our vessels is more the viscosity of wine, the workload of the heart is far reduced.
One of the reasons that high blood viscosity can be so critically important is that research studies document that arteries harden as a result of repeated endothelial injury. The endothelium is the inner lining of the blood vessel. We know that as blood gets thicker, the heart must work harder to pump the blood. This also raises blood pressure. These combined factors, then, injure the arteries, which get harder in an effort to protect themselves. This is the first time a physical injury, not just a chemical injury to blood vessel, has been factored into this problem of heart disease. This was all described in some detail in the book called The Blood Thinner Cure by Kenneth R. Kensey, M.D.
Passwater: How can one improve his/her blood viscosity?
Gordon: The obvious and readily controllable factors that we’ve all been aware of include preventing obesity, limiting alcohol consumption, salt intake, smoking, exercise, controlling the epidemic of diabetes and the overconsumption of animal fats, as well as limiting the intake of all trans fats. Even donating blood lowers blood viscosity. What I was so excited to find, however, was that the oral chelation, which I have worked with since my initial collaboration with Dr. Lester Morrison over 20 years ago, was clearly and dramatically improving blood viscosity on all people tested.
For the first time, I think we have enough information to overcome the skepticism of chelation doctors, who generally dismiss oral chelation. Our experience – not a single fatality in over 20 years for patients following the Morrison-inspired approach to oral chelation – forces these practitioners to reconsider their position. The first time I had a rational explanation for chelation doctors who generally were skeptical about oral chelation, which forces them to reconsider their position. I know clinically that we are able to routinely cancel bypass surgery in patients and that in over 20 years we had not heard of a single fatality occurring in patients on this Morrison inspired approach to oral chelation.
It is important to recognize that Dr. Morrison had based his work on a program OF HIS OWN design that employed oral mucopolysaccharides to reduce blood clotting tendencies. This was all described in great detail in the three separate books by Dr. Morrison, including, Dr. Morrison’s Heart Saver Program. He spent many years and spent over $10 million in research to develop his approach to preventing heart attacks. However in those years no one could measure blood viscosity. Since I had reviewed thousands of papers on ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid (EDTA), as the co-founder of ACAM, I immediately saw the obvious synergy between my work with EDTA and Dr. Morrison’s work with mucopolysaccharides. Our combined efforts led to a safe oral product producing a heparin-like action; but without blood viscosity testing there was no way to really show doctors why and how this was working to keep their patients alive.
This approach has permitted me to safely cancel bypass surgery on every patient that I have treated for the last 20 years. I have yet to hear of the first fatal heart attack occurring in any patient treated with this basically all natural supplement program that we now recognize is lowering blood viscosity without fail. Of course, the omega-3 fatty acid is another key component of this program because no single nutrient is able to eliminate all of the basic causes of death from heart attacks. These include blood clots, arrhythmia and/or vessel spasm.
Today, there is serious confusion on the part of the American public about so-called blood thinners. Many think these include only drugs such as Coumadin and/or aspirin, and yet we know with this new testing that these generally are not lowering blood viscosity. That is why I was so excited when I found that the combination of nutrients that Dr Morrison originally developed was working successfully and safely to lower blood viscosity.
Passwater: The study of the relationship between fish oil and heart diseases has come a long way since my book in 1987. Now the cardiologists even recommend it. What do the official publications of the cardiologists say about fish oil and heart disease?
Gordon: The dramatic reduction in sudden death reported in huge studies which appear to be the direct result of increased consumption of omega-3 makes it clear that any successful heart protection program today must include omega-3 supplementation. With omega-3s, you’re both helping to prevent excessive clotting and decreasing irritability of the myocardium which leads to the problem of serious rhythm disturbances and sudden death. The May 27, 2003 issue of the American Heart Association journal Circulation, in a landmark editorial, stated, “there is a need to consider a new indication for treatment with low dose omega-3 fatty acid or fish oil supplements—the prevention of cardiac death in patients with a prior heart attack.”
The recent study from Current Atherosclerosis Reports, Volume 7, Number 5, 2005, by W.S. Harris, finds that each passing year the cardiovascular benefits of omega-3 fatty acids become clearer than ever. Doses of less than one gram a day appear to reduce the risk of fatal coronary heart disease events, perhaps by stabilizing the myocardium and reducing risk for fatal arrhythmias. Studies in women with coronary artery disease now suggest that plaque progression may be slowed by increased intake of oily fish, even in women with diabetes.
The recent paper entitled “Fish Consumption: Recommendations vs. Advisories, Can They Be Reconciled?” by K.M. Smith and N.R. Sahyoun in Nutrition Reviews (Volume 62, Number 2, Pages 39 through 46, 2005), discusses the conflict between the need to consume two servings of fish per week minimum for cardio-protective benefits and the concern regarding methyl mercury. I have advised my patients that mercury is coming into our bodies today from the burning of coal from as far away as China and that there is no place on earth that one can completely avoid the ingestion of particulate mercury, cadmium, lead and other toxic metals into our body.
Therefore, please enjoy the consumption of fish and just recognize that natural chelators such as garlic and high dose vitamin C, malic acid, and even oral EDTA will become a necessity to protect ourselves against an increasingly toxic environment.
A confounding factor regarding the safety of fish consumption was discussed in an article entitled “Measurement of Organo Chlorines In Commercial Over-The-Counter Fish Oil Preparations: Implications For Dietary And Therapeutic Recommendations For Omega-3 Fatty Acids And A Review of Literature.” In this article, published in Archives Of Pathology And Laboratory Medicine (Volume 129, Number 1, publication 2005, Pages 74 – 77), S.F. Melanson and the co-authors contend that fish contain environmental toxins including organo chlorine pesticides.
Toxin level varies depending on the fish source and the specific toxin, but neither raised fish nor wild fish were toxin free. Nonetheless, they recognized that fish oil supplements also prevent the progression of coronary artery disease and reduce cardiovascular mortality. They conclude that fish oil supplements are more helpful than the consumption of fish that may be high in organo chlorines. They did test fish oils and found these provide the benefits without the risk of toxicity.
Passwater: What do studies from the leading universities such as Harvard and UCLA find?
Gordon: Alexander Leaf, M.D., Jackson Professor of Clinical Medicine Emeritus at Harvard Medical School in Boston has presented a detailed explanation of how omega-3 fish oils benefit the heart.
Dr. Leaf explains that his studies of individual heart cells demonstrate omega-3 fatty acids specifically block excessive sodium and calcium currents in the heart, which are associated with dangerous changes in heart rhythm. Scientists now believe that the fish oils act by taking up residence in the membranes of heart cells and alter the cells’ electrical properties, making it harder for dangerous spasms to start. “If you have a heart attack—heaven forbid—the fatty acids are already in the heart…and prevent arrhythmia,” says Dr. Leaf.
The link to arrhythmias is the most substantiated, but omega-3 oils also have been shown to have potential for other heart-friendly effects such as lowering the levels of triglycerides in the blood, reducing inflammation, slowing coronary artery thickening and reducing the tendency of the blood to clot.
The benefits of omega-3 supplementation go far beyond the heart. Population studies in Netherlands and the United States report that people who eat fish once a week or more are 60% less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease. Greg Cole, associate director of UCLA’s Alzheimer’s Disease Research Foundation, says this could be because DHA is crucial for the proper working of brain cells and it is destroyed during the course of Alzheimer’s disease.
Dr. Joseph Hibbeln of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) published a survey showing that countries with the highest rate of depression ate the least fish, while those with the lowest rate of depression ate the most, in his 1998 published research. Mood is also linked to the level of fish oil consumption. Research at Harvard has shown distinct response in the treatment of psychiatric patients with bipolar disorder.
Passwater: Do we now have the best type of clinical trials—the gold standard, placebo-controlled, double blind, and randomly-assigned clinical trials?
Gordon: Yes. No one can refute the quality of the studies that have been published, which I have now listed in considerable detail in my book, The Omega-3 Miracle. For example, one Italian study published in Circulation in April 2002, found that within four months the relative risk of sudden death in the omega-3 treated group was less than half of that of the untreated group (“Early Protection Against Sudden Death By Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids After Myocardial Infarction: Time-Course Analysis Of The Results Of The Gruppo Italiano Per Lo Studio Della Sopravvivenza Nel’Infarto Miocardico (GISSI) Prevenzione,” Circulation 2002:105(16):1897-1903). I reference this study on page 147 of my book. The dose was only one gram a day, and the level of risk reduction was similar for cardiovascular, cardiac and coronary deaths.
Another study, published April 11, 2002 in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), followed healthy men for 17 years as part of the Physicians Health Study. The relative risk of sudden death was dramatically lower among men with higher levels of omega-3s in their blood. The conclusion was “the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish are strongly associated with a reduced risk for sudden death among men without evidence of prior cardiovascular disease. This is Reference 38, page 147 of my book. Yet another study, headed by R. De Caterina and titled, “Anti-Arrhythmic Effects of Omega-3 Fatty Acids: From Epidemiology to Bedside,” appeared in American Heart Journal (Sept 2003; 164:420-430). This is reference 36, page 147 of my book.
Passwater: This is an excellent example of how epidemiological studies led to clinical studies to verify a postulated association.
Gordon: Yes, earlier researchers had noted that Icelanders had a very low incidence of heart disease in spite of the fact that they ate a high-fat diet. In fact, today, Icelanders are a medical marvel. They have less heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke than any other nationality in the world. In fact, they are 20 times more likely to live longer than Americans. Iceland has the lowest rate of infant mortality and Icelandic women give birth to the healthiest infants, having possibly the most advanced immune and nervous systems with optimum brain and eye development. Major scientific research in the 1970s first identified fatty acids in fish for some of these remarkable, healthful benefits. Then, in 1982, a landmark study conducted by a team of Scandinavian scientists earned them a Nobel Prize for their discoveries in the workings of these substances; namely, the daily intake of fish oils unusually rich in essential fatty acids, EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) is unique to Icelanders.
Passwater: An interesting story indeed. But, there is more to the fish oil story. In your book, you discuss the relationships between fish oil and inflammation, arthritis and pain. Please elaborate on inflammation—both arterial and joint inflammation—and fish oil. Does fish oil help reduce general body pains?
Gordon: An interesting question. You know, Dick, the amazing thing is that I was quite unaware about the massive reduction in inflammation and improvement in joint inflammation that we would encounter as we started taking the omega-3 supplementation to the American public through the infomercial.
The unsolicited feedback has been so overwhelmingly positive that I truly feel it is extremely unfortunate for rheumatologists to be utilizing potentially dangerous anti-inflammatory drugs without first recognizing the value of adding omega -3 oil capsules to their patients’ treatment programs
The findings of a study done by Dr. Joseph Maroon were reported on April 19, 2005 at the 73rd meeting of the American Association of Neurological Surgeons in New Orleans, LA. This neurosurgeon, from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, Pittsburgh, PA, is a famous specialist in degenerative spine disease. He has been the team physician for the Pittsburgh Steelers for over 20 years. In his study, he proved that virtually every patient could give up the various anti-inflammatory drugs they’d been taking if someone put them on adequate levels of omega-3 supplementation.
There does seem to be a need for some patients to receive a loading dose of up to 12 capsules a day for a period of time to get some more of these remarkable benefits. Dr. Maroon found that he’d been able to cancel prospective surgery on many patients sent to him with inflammatory joint disease and pain syndromes. Most responded beautifully to omega-3 supplementation, and patients who took high doses of omega-3 oils were impressed enough that they chose to discontinue the use of their NSAIDs.
The dose utilized was 1,200 to 2,400 mg a day. After 75 days of the therapy, 50% of the subjects had stopped using prescription medications for their pain, 50% said their overall pain had decreased, 60% said their joint pain had decreased, 80% were satisfied with their improvement, and 88% said they were pleased enough that they would continue to use fish oil supplementation. There were no significant adverse effects. Dr. Maroon said, “Omega-3 fatty acids appear to be a safer alternative to NSAIDs for treatment of non-surgical neck and back pain. Our results mirror other controlled studies which compared Ibuprofen and Omega-3 fatty acids, demonstrating equivalent effect in reducing arthritic pain.”
Yes, it has been astounding to get the testimonials from across the United States from both women and men who now sleep more soundly. They believe this is because they are not in as much pain and, therefore, do not toss and turn so much in bed. Many have been able to go back to full activity in their job or engage in sports again as a result of their often quite dramatic responses to the anti-inflammatory activity of appropriate, high-quality omega-3 supplementation.
A major review on the subject appeared in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition (Volume 21, Number 6, Pages 495 – 505, 2002). Covering “omega-3 fatty acids in inflammation and auto-immune diseases,” this study was performed by Artemis P. Simopoulos, M.D., FACN, of the Center for Genetics, Nutrition and Health, Washington, DC. This well-referenced review contains 100 references, including at least 13 randomized, controlled clinical trials that show benefits from fish oil supplements in patients with rheumatoid arthritis. Another excellent review has been published by Dr. M. J. James, and colleagues (James, MJ., et al, Dietary Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Therapy for Rheumatoid Arthritis. SEMIN, Arthritis, Rheum 27:85-97, 1997). This review states in conclusion the importance of omega-3 fatty acids in the diet is now evident, as well as the need to return to a more physiologic omega-6/omega-3 ratio of about 1- 4 to1, rather than the current ratio of between 20-to-1 and 16-to-1 provided by our current western diet.
Passwater: OK, that’s a good review to start with. Let’s take a break and then discuss some important studies and fish oil basics in the next issue. WF
© 2006 Whole Foods Magazine and Richard A. Passwater, Ph.D.
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