Antioxidants, DHA, Vegan Diet & Creatine

by Ray Sahelian, M.D.

Antioxidants & Eye Health

The January, 2003 issue of the medical journal, Ophthalmology, reports that antioxidants are helpful in improving vision in those with macular degeneration. The macula is a small area of the retina that has the sharpest vision. With age, the macula degenerates leading to poor vision. Thirty patients with early macular degeneration were divided into two groups, antioxidant group (A) and no treatment group (NT). Patients in the A group were given lutein, 15 mg; vitamin E, 20 mg and nicotinamide, 18 mg, daily for 180 days, whereas NT patients had no dietary supplementation during the same period. In all patients and normal subjects, retinal assessment was performed at the start of the study and after 180 days. When evaluated at 180 days, the macula had improved in those taking the antioxidants while the NT group did not have any changes. The results suggest that increasing the level of retinal antioxidants influences macular function early in the disease process, as well as in normal aging. There are so many antioxidants to choose from that it is difficult to recommend a specific combination that would apply to everyone. Supplements of lutein, vitamins C and E, and lipoic acid should be on the top of the list, along with, of course, plenty of organic fruits and vegetables.

Smart Eating for a Smarter Baby

The brain is largely made of fat, and the types of fat we consume can have an influence on how well our brain functions. Most studies show that fish oils (DHA and EPA) are essential to optimal brain function. But does maternal diet influence brain development of the child? There is a growth spurt in the human brain during the last trimester of pregnancy and the first postnatal months, with a large increase in the cerebral content of DHA. The fetus and the newborn infant depend on maternal supply of DHA. Sometimes maternal intake of DHA during pregnancy and lactation is marginal. Researchers at the University of Oslo in Norway examined the effect of supplementing pregnant and lactating women with cod liver oil on mental development of the children, compared with maternal supplementation with corn oil. The study was randomized and double blinded. A total of 590 pregnant women were recruited in week 18 of pregnancy to take daily 10 mL of cod liver oil or corn oil until 3 months after delivery. The cod liver oil contains DHA and EPA. The corn oil contains linoleic acid and alpha-linolenic acid. All infants of these women were scheduled for assessment of cognitive function at 6 and 9 months of age. As part of the protocol, 135 subjects from this population were invited for intelligence testing with the Kaufman Assessment Battery for Children (KABC) at 4 years of age. The KABC is a measure of intelligence and achievement designed for children aged 2.5 years through 12.5 years. Children who were born to mothers who had taken cod liver oil during pregnancy and lactation scored higher on the Mental Processing Composite of the KABC at 4 years of age as compared with children whose mothers had taken corn oil. Women who are pregnant may consider eating more fish, taking cod liver oil or fish oil supplements in consultation with their obstetrician.

Vegans & Creatine

Vegetarians, particularly those who are on a strict lacto-ovo vegetarian (LOV) diet do not ingest much creatine since creatine is mostly found in meats, fish and chicken. Creatine helps muscle stay bulky and strong. In a study published in the Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, thirty-two healthy men, who regularly consumed an omnivorous diet, were split into two groups. One group consumed a LOV diet while the other group had an omnivorous diet (they ate everything). The study lasted 26 days. In addition to their diet, on day 22 of the study, subjects were assigned in a double-blind manner to receive either creatine monohydrate 0.3 g per kilogram of body weight per day or an equivalent dose of placebo for 5 days. The results demonstrated that consuming a LOV diet for 21 days decreased muscle creatine concentration in individuals who normally consume meat and fish. However, the creatine content of muscle in the LOV group returned back to normal after a period of only 5 days. Strict vegans may consider supplementing with about one gram of creatine per day.

Ray Sahelian, M.D., is the bestselling author of Mind Boosters and The Stevia Cookbook. He maintains a comprehensive health site on nutrition and supplements at www.raysahelian.com.