Eating More Fish, Prescription Fish Oil may Slash Heart Risks

Consuming omega-3 fatty acids is one of the best things you can do for your heart, and this has been established in numerous studies. Research shows that people who eat more fish rich in omega-3’s have lower rates of heart problems and have a lower risk of dying from heart disease compared to those who eat less.

A recent study, published in the New England Journal of Medicinebacks those claims. The authors discovered that a highly purified version of omega-3 fats, called icosapent ethyl, can slash the risk of heart problems, including heart attack, stroke, and angina. It can also reduce a person’s risk of dying from heart problems, the study shows.

Read: Another Study Finds Fish Oil Boosts Heart Health

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved icosapent ethyl to treat exceedingly-high triglyceride levels. The omega-3 fat is sold in prescription capsules known as Vascepa.

A previous study showed that people with high cholesterol levels who took Vascepa to lower their triglyceride levels, along with a cholesterol-lowering statin drug, had a 19% lower risk of suffering a major heart event compared to those who only took a statin.

However, due to that study’s lack of a rigorous control arm, the research was considered questionable by experts. The researchers behind the recent study sought to determine whether or not icosapent ethyl could actually do what the previous study had claimed, so they created the REDUCE-IT trial, which involved randomly assigning people to receive the omega-3 capsules or placebo.

All of the participants were taking statins to lower their cholesterol and prevent either a first or repeat heart attack or stroke. About 7 in 10 individuals in the study had hardened arteries, while the rest had diabetes and at least 1 other heart risk factor. [2]

Read: Omega-3 Fish Oil may Help People Recover from a Heart Attack

The researchers followed more than 8,000 men and women for an average of 5 years. After the follow-up period ended, the team found that people taking omega-3’s had a 20% lower risk of heart-related death, a 31% lower risk of heart attack, and a 28% reduced risk of stroke compared to the placebo group.

Note: the study was supported by Amarin Pharma, the makers of Vascepa. [1]

Dr. Deepak Bhatt, executive director of interventional cardiovascular programs at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and lead author of the paper, said:

“What surprised me was that there were a bunch of things that were favorably influenced by the omega-3 drug that we wouldn’t expect. This drug is affecting multiple different endpoints. I can’t think of another cardiovascular drug that hits all those different types of endpoints.”

One of the more surprising findings of the study for Bhatt was that people taking Vascepa showed lower rates of stroke. Another fascinating discovery was that the participants taking the drug had lower rates of stenting and bypass surgery, which is necessary for opening blocked blood vessels in the heart.

The authors hypothesize that omega-3’s may reduce heart risks by stabilizing cell membranes, thus lowering the risk of irregular heartbeats and sudden cardiac arrest. It’s also possible that omega-3’s prevent or eat away at plaques that build up within heart vessel walls that can eventually rupture and cause a heart attack.

I’m sure future research will reveal even more untapped benefits of fish oil on the body.

Read: Are Omega-3 Fatty Acids the Key to Preventing Most Disease?

Be Wary of Fish Oil Supplements

But if you’re hoping to get the same benefits from the fish oil supplements on your local pharmacy’s shelves, don’t waste your money. Bhatt said that over-the-counter omega-3 supplements contain varying doses of different types of omega-3 fatty acids. What’s more, some may be low quality or contaminated. So fish oil supplements shouldn’t be your go-to unless you’ve done your research.

The drug used in the study is a specific formulation of purified eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) that is only available by prescription.

Bhatt said:

“It would really be a mistake to extrapolate these results to fish oil supplements in general. There have been a number of studies done with mixed EPA and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) preparations that have found no heart benefit.”

If you’re a healthy adult but you want to further reduce your risk of heart disease, the best way to get additional omega-3 fatty acids is through food. [2]

Dr. Helene Glassberg, an associate professor of clinical cardiovascular medicine at the University of Pennsylvania’s Penn Medicine, who was not involved with the study, said:

“Get it in your diet if you can, from omega-3 fatty fish like salmon or sardines. That’s the place to start because these are natural. This is the best way to get it and not spend $30 on a bottle of supplements at a health food store.”

Sources:

[1] Time

[2] HealthDay

Nuclear Waste From Fukushima to be Dumped into the Sea

Waste water produced by the 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident will be dumped into the sea, the head of TEPCO – the Japanese company responsible for cleaning up the mess – says. As you can imagine, fishermen and environmentalists are spitting mad. [1]

The Pacific Ocean will become home to about 580 barrels of water tainted with tritium, a radioactive form of hydrogen, which was used to cool the nuclear power plant’s damaged reactors. That’s nearly 770,000 tons of waste.

Local residents had no say in the matter, and they’ve expressed outrage at the plan.

Takashi Kawamura, chairman of the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), said:

“The decision has already been made.”

Before TEPCO can dump the radioactive material, the government must first approve the decision.

Said Kawamura:

“We cannot keep going if we do not have the support of the state.”

Local fishermen are concerned the negative publicity over the proposed waste dump will harm their livelihoods.

Kanji Tachiya, head of a local fishermen’s cooperative, explained:

“Releasing (tritium) into the sea will create a new wave of unfounded rumors, making our efforts all for naught.” [2]

The European Union (EU) as well as dozens of other countries banned certain fish imports from Japan in the wake of the disaster, which occurred after a massive earthquake and tsunami struck Japan. The Fukushima Daiichi plant suffered multiple meltdowns, and reactor No. 1 spewed radiation that has plagued the region ever since. As of March 2017, 33% of the countries that originally banned fish imports still blocked shipments of certain seafood from Japan.

Read: 2012: Fukushima Fish Have 258 Times “Safe” Level of Radiation

Generally speaking, tritium isn’t dangerous to humans, unless they are exposed to high levels of the isotope. Shunichi Tanaka, chairman of the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA), claims that tritium is “so weak in its radioactivity it won’t penetrate plastic wrapping.” [1]

According to oceanographer Simon Boxall, the waste “will have a minimal effect on an ocean basin scale.” [2]

Read: Fukushima Radiation Detected on U.S. West Coast

But environmental activists don’t want nuclear-waste dumping to become the norm.

Aileen Mioko-Smith of Green Action Japan said:

“They say it will be safe because the ocean is large so it will be diluted, but that sets a precedent that can be copied, essentially permitting anyone to dump nuclear waste into our seas.”

She added:

“This accident happened more than 6 years ago, and the authorities should have been able to devise a way to remove the tritium instead of simply announcing that they are going to dump it in the ocean.” [1]

Unfortunately, the technology to remove tritium from water does not exist.

Sources:

[1] Newsweek

[2] Independent


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Eco Artists Build Interactive Dive Site that Doubles as Artificial Coral Reef

A group of artists, environmentalists, entrepreneurs, and locals gathered in mid-April along the Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands to witness an exciting moment: The sinking of the Kodiak Queen, 1 of 5 boats that survived Pearl Harbor. But this wasn’t for entertainment purposes. The ship had been transformed by the group months before into both a tourist attraction, and a way of drawing attention and conservation efforts to the region’s dying coral reef populations. [1]

Source: Inhabitat

The volunteers gave the boat a thorough cleaning and transformed its chambers into a sort-of interactive art piece, including a hollow rebar and mesh kraken with 80-foot tentacles that extend along the length of the deck. Once the Kodiak Queen reached the ocean floor, it would become the Project YOKO BVI Art Reef, an interactive dive site.

The project is now the world’s largest underwater art installation.

There was a tense moment on the shore, when the audience thought the boat might tip over, compromising much of the artists’ work. Fortunately, the Kodiak Queen remained upright for her journey, drawing cheers from the crowd.

Aydika James, the art director at Secret Samurai Productions, a collective of artists working toward solving real-world problems through art, said:

“Watching this ship, which has so much history and so many hours put into it, go down was a joyful thing. It felt like a beginning.”

James is also a member of Maverick1000, a group of entrepreneurs who meet annually on Sir Richard Branson’s private Necker Island in the British Virgin Islands.

Read: Great Barrier Reef in Bad Shape, but not Dead yet

In addition to being a symbol of artistic expression and entertainment for divers, Project YOKO also serves as a new artificial reef that provides a foundation for corals and sponges to grow upon, that will also house fish, such as the threatened Goliath groupers. [2]

A Goliath grouper swims with other fish

BVI Art Reef’s goal is to “mobilize a network of researchers, philanthropists, and artists to solve marine health problems through the Power of Play.”

The downed ship is furbished with “an emerging technology called environmental DNA, or eDNA, to collect data on the entire marine ecosystem around the vessel.”

Now that the Kodiak Queen rests at the bottom of the ocean, the project’s organizers have started working with local BVI dive operators to ensure divers submit a $10 donation that will go to marine health research and children’s swim education.

Sources:

[1] Fast Company

[2] Collective Evolution

Images Source:

Inhabitat


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Are Food Allergies Increasing? Experts Say They Just Don’t Know

More Americans claim to have food allergies than ever before, but a report published in 2016 from the National Academy of Sciences says that it’s hard to know how many people in the U.S. actually have food allergies. Although many healthcare professionals involved in patient care agree that an increase has occurred, specifying its actual extent is complicated by factors such as inconsistent data or studies that use variable methods.

Part of the problem is that many people self-diagnose and can easily misinterpret their symptoms. Food allergies can be mistaken for gluten sensitivity or lactose intolerance, e.g., neither of which fits the medical definition of an allergy. [1]

Dr. Virginia Stallings, a board-certified nutrition pediatrician at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the chair of the committee that wrote the report, said:

“There are a lot of misconceptions about what a food allergy is.”

One of the ways in which a misinterpretation arises is when parents introduce milk or another new food into their child’s diet, and then see that the child has an upset stomach or other gastrointestinal symptoms. These symptoms could indicate lactose intolerance, but the parents may suspect a food allergy. In reality, food intolerance and food allergy are two different conditions.

Stallings said:

“The reason food allergy symptoms are often confused with other [conditions] such as lactose intolerance is because there’s an overlap in some of the symptoms.”

The panel estimated that about 5% of U.S. children have legitimate food allergies, and wrote that:

“Eight food groups are considered to be major allergens. These are milk, egg, peanut, tree nuts, wheat, soy, fish, and crustacean shellfish.” [2]

Stallings added:

“Questions persist about whether food allergy prevalence has been on the rise within the past two decades and why. The current data do not unequivocally support the occurrence of such a rise.”

The Definition of a Food Allergy

Allergies are caused by an immune response to a normally-harmless food or other substance. Allergies typically cause hives and swelling or gastrointestinal distress. Severe food allergies can be life-threatening. In contrast, someone with lactose intolerance can’t easily digest the natural sugar in milk, and the condition is not life-threatening – just highly uncomfortable. [1]

Source: Personal Health News

As the American Academy of Pediatrics points out, “while lactose intolerance can cause a great deal of discomfort, it will not produce a life-threatening reaction such as anaphylaxis.” [1]

Anaphylaxis (severe allergic reaction) can cause someone to go into shock within seconds or minutes of contact with the food or substance (latex, e.g.) that he or she is allergic to. A sudden drop in blood pressure occurs; and the airways narrow, which blocks normal breathing. Other symptoms of anaphylactic shock can include a rapid, weak pulse a skin rash, and nausea and vomiting. [3]

Read: 18 Million Americans Suffer from Gluten Intolerance

Another problem making it difficult to determine how many people have food allergies is the fact that diagnosing food allergies can be complicated. Stallings said that there’s no single skin or blood test that lets physicians accurately determine whether a person has an allergy to a specific food. [1]

Advice for Parents

Parents should seek immediate medical attention if their child’s lips swell or the child has difficulty breathing. When the symptoms are milder, parents should see an expert, such as a pediatric allergist, instead of declaring that the child has an allergy.

Bruce Lanser, who directs the pediatric food allergy program at National Jewish Health in Denver, said:

“We unfortunately see kids avoiding a food unnecessarily because of some fear of a potential allergy.”

The best diagnostic tool at experts’ disposal is an oral food challenge, according to Lanser. Under medical supervision, patients eat small amounts of the food they are suspected of being allergic to. Lanser explained:

“We start with a small amount of food and slowly give increasing doses up to a full serving.”

If the patient has a reaction during the test, “obviously we stop and treat,” he said.

The authors of the report wrote:

“The patient’s medical history and other test results, such as from a skin prick test, can suggest the likelihood of a food allergy, but in some cases an oral food challenge – which involves a gradual, medically supervised ingestion of increasingly larger doses of the food being tested as a possible allergen – is needed to confirm diagnosis. ” [2]

That’s a lot of work to confirm an allergy, so people often just go on a hunch.

Lanser said he tests his patients once a year to see if they’ve outgrown their food allergies. And they often have. Said Lanser:

“Milk and egg allergy are commonly outgrown. About 1 in 5 people outgrow their peanut allergy.” [1]

Food Allergy Safety – 4 Recommendations

The authors of the new report recommend more research to determine the prevalence of food allergies. The report also includes many recommendations for addressing food-allergy safety:

  • 1. Kids who have severe symptoms of a food allergy may require an epinephrine injection. In many schools, only a school nurse is trained to give shots. The report recommends that other administrators and teachers also be trained to administer epinephrine in case of emergency.
  • 3. Health professionals and the public should receive better education concerning differences between true food allergies and other disorders (lactose intolerance and gluten sensitivity, e.g.) that are often mistaken for allergies.
  • 4. Restaurant workers, first responders, and others should receive better training in helping people avoid foods they’re allergic to, and in treating severe allergic reactions with epinephrine, often sold as an EpiPen. [4]

Sources:

[1] NPR

[2] NBC News

[3] Mayo Clinic

[4] The Boston Globe

Personal Health News


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