Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Fish on the Brain

(Two of my sons, Zeke and Gabe, on a deep sea fishing trip!)

Perhaps it is no fluke that the happiest and most balanced people on our planet tend to live near the ocean where the supplies of fresh fish are abundant.

About ten years ago, I remember meeting a man in his mid 80’s from the Cayman Islands whose energy and joy seemed boundless. When I asked him the secret of his youth, he put his arm around me (he was also an outrageous flirt), winked and pointed to the ocean. “I’ve eaten enough fish oil over my lifetime to float a cruise ship!”

Little did I know that science would soon prove his statement to be true. The more research is done on fish oil, the more good news we seem to find. Recent findings have shown that fish oil taken by pregnant mothers and given to children (in safe amounts) may increase a child’s intelligence and also help calm and regulate hyperactivity.

Dr. Henslin shares this story from This is Your Brain on Joy:

By age seven, little Alissa was close to two years behind in school. Two years earlier she’d been diagnosed with childhood arthritis. Vioxx was the only anti-inflammatory that would bring her relief. (Little did anyone know that Vioxx would soon be removed from the market because of its harmful side-effects, increasing risk of strokes and heart attacks.)

In addition to the arthritis, Alissa would have panic attacks to such a degree that it was difficult for her to leave the house. She was also prone to outbursts of anger that were a sight to behold. With the combination of joint pain, panic, and temper outbursts, it was difficult for her to go to recess at school.

Going to an amusement park or an outing as a family was a struggle because her family never knew what might happen. Alissa’s parents struggled with guilt and shame because they could not control their own child, whose puzzling emotions were off the charts.

Very few friends came over to play with Alissa because of her physical limitations, but mostly because of her emotional instability.

Their church was highly supportive of a popular Christian parenting program at that time that defined anger as “a rebellious and defiant spirit.” Graduates of this program received a “whacker” to be used to administer discipline . Fortunately Alissa’s parents were willing to withstand the pressured advice of their well-meaning church friends, and began to search for possible underlying reasons for their daughter’s out-of-control behavior.

They contacted me, and I referred them for a SPECT brain imaging scan. Alissa’s scan showed what we call a “ring of fire.” This means that most of Alissa’s mood centers were all over-firing. She would experience fear, anger, obsessiveness and depression – all at the same time, almost all the time. In fact, when I saw the scan, I felt so much compassion for this little girl that I got tears in my eyes.

I encouraged Alissa’s parents to contact Dr. Renee Thomas (see www. kidsneedusnow.org), who has a clinic in Boston. The family went to the clinic, and the entire family went on the Zone Diet, popularized by Dr. Barry Sears. (Similar to what I recommend in the Joy Diet, with an emphasis on adequate protein with every meal and snacks as a key component.) In addition, we gradually worked Alissa up to 2 tablespoons of a pharmaceutical grade of fish oil per day. (She used Coromega, which tastes like orange pudding. Kids love it.)

Alissa’s mother decreased the Vioxx 50 percent with no return of the joint pain. Besides being calming to the brain, Omega 3s are powerful anti-inflammatories. One month later her mother took Alissa completely off the anti-inflamatory with no return of pain, and Alissa also had control of her mood swings.

Three years later we took another scan, and Alissa now has a much-improved brain! All this change from fish oil alone! Truly amazing. Some neurologists believe that when they find this “ring of fire” pattern in children, it can bloom into bipolar disorder in later life. Treated early, with high-quality, pharmaceutical-grade fish oil, this condition may be avoided. Scientists are also discovering that Omega 3 fish oil can work as well as medication in some cases of adults with bipolar (manic-depressive) disorder.

By the way, Alissa is now reading at college level! With her brain stabilized, she can cope with her learning disabilities and has great mood management—a miracle that took five years to accomplish!


The ideal fish oil is high quality pharmaceutical grade. To avoid “fish burp” problems you’ll want to get “enteric coated capsules” (that smell like vanilla) or lemon flavored capsules also work well for me. For children, try the Coromega product that comes in little orange pudding- like squeeze packets.

Need more reasons to add fish oil to your diet? Here's a few areas where fish oil has proven helpful!

A Healthy Heart:
Reduce risk of strokes & heart attacks
Lower blood pressure
Reduce risk of blood clots
Reduce triglycerides (blood fat levels)
Protect against atherosclerosis

A Healthy Brain:
Alleviate Attention Deficit/HyperactivityDisorder (ADHD)
Alleviate Dyslexia
Alleviate Depression and aggression
Alleviate Memory problems, Alzheimers disease and dementia

A Healthy Body:
Reduce risk Rheumatoid arthritis
Reduce risk Inflammatory skin disorders
Reduce risk Inflammatory bowel diseases
A Lean BodyBurn fat faster and reduce excess body fat at the fastest possible rate.

Reduction in the risk of inflammation reactions caused by:
Rheumatoid arthritis
Inflammatory bowel disease
Kidney disease
Ulcerative colitis
Kidney failure that occurs with aging

Protection Against Degenerative Conditions
Eyesight degeneration
Alzheimer disease and age related memory loss
Kidney failure that occurs with aging

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