Brain-damaging Triglycerides can disturb Mood
You may know that high triglycerides, a type of fat in your blood, can be hazardous to your heart. But it’s not widely known that high triglycerides can also be detrimental to your brain, says Dr. Charles Glueck, medical director of the Cholesterol Center of Jewish Hospital in Cincinnati. His compelling research has found that high triglycerides are closely tied to depression, hostility, aggression, and even hyperactivity in children. In fact, Dr. Glueck says high triglycerides cause oxygen deficiencies in the brain that can lead to mini-lesions and blood clots that look for all the world like so-called “organic brain syndrome.”
In a 1993 study, Dr. Glueck showed that lowering triglycerides can dramatically boost mood and combat depression. Among a group of twenty-three men and women with high triglycerides, about 40 percent were
mildly to severely depressed, according to standard criteria. After a year on a triglyceride-lowering diet and drugs, their average triglycerides dropped nearly 50 percent, and their depression virtually disappeared. Fully 91 percent of the formerly depressed returned to normal, most within six weeks, says Dr. Glueck. More impressive, the greater the fall in triglycerides, the greater the improvement in mood.
Dr. Glueck also studied 220 children ages five to eighteen who were hospitalized with mood disorders, schizophrenia, anxiety, and organic psychiatric disorders. Those with disruptive behavior and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder had higher triglycerides than a group of normal children.
A string of other evidence incriminates triglycerides in brain disturbances and behavior. British researchers found that men with abnormally high triglycerides tend to have denigratory attitudes toward women, are more apt to commit hostile acts and have a “domineering” attitude. Brandeis University psychologists have linked high triglycerides to “cognitive impairment,” including depression and memory problems among some diabetics. As triglycerides rose over a five-year-period, so did hostility in a group of young men ages twenty-three to thirty-five, reported University of Alabama investigators in 1997.
Unquestionably, high triglycerides are now viewed as a major villain in blood-clot (ischemic) strokes, according to several studies. Japanese researchers noted that middle-aged diabetics with high triglycerides were twice as likely to suffer a stroke.
How do high triglycerides undermine the brain? Dr. Glueck says excessive triglycerides make blood sluggish, more apt to form small clots, cutting down blood and oxygen to brain cells. Dr. Robert Rosenson, at Rush Medical College in Chicago, has found that triglycerides at levels above 190 milligrams per deciliter make blood strikingly more viscous and clot-prone. High triglycerides also are tied to the most menacing type of cholesterol, small, dense LDL particles, most apt to infiltrate blood vessel walls and promote clogging. High triglycerides also are an integral part of an “insulin resistance syndrome,” which destroys arteries, foreshadows diabetes, and is detrimental to mental function. Although 200 milligrams per deciliter has been considered a relatively safe triglyceride level, many experts now consider 100 or less an “ideal” level.
How TO REDUCE BRAIN-DAMAGING TRIGLYCERIDES
Eat seafood and/or take fish oil supplements. Omega-3 fish oil is the most effective, safest way to lower triglycerides better than any known drug—according to experts. After reviewing seventy-two studies, William Harris, Ph.D., director of the Lipoprotein Research Laboratory, St. Luke’s Hospital in Kansas City, concluded that a daily 3,000 to 4,000 milligrams of fish oil cut high triglycerides an average 28 percent. Another study found a daily dose—comparable to eating seven ounces of salmon, mackerel, or sardines—slashed triglycerides more than 50 percent. And it works quickly—usually normalizing triglyceride levels within a couple of weeks.
Even substituting shellfish for the usual meat, eggs, milk, and cheese protein, may send triglycerides down dramatically, according to a University of Washington study. Triglycerides sank 61 percent in clam-eaters, 51 percent in oyster-eaters, and 23 percent in crab-eaters.
Restrict alcohol. It can raise triglycerides. One or two drinks a day are usually not a problem.
Curb your intake of carbohydrates, especially refined sugar, including fructose-sweetened soft drinks. Studies show that sugar raises triglycerides far more than starchy complex carbohydrates such as bread, potatoes, and pasta.
In people who are “insulin resistant” (usually indicated by high triglycerides and low good-type HDL cholesterol), sugar-rich diets send triglycerides skyrocketing. To keep triglycerides in check, whole fruit is better than fruit juices; whole grain, high-fiber starches are better than low-fiber “convenience foods” such as chips, and low-fat, high-sugar “diet” cookies and candies.
IS IT REALLY THE FISH?
If high triglycerides promote depression, and fish oil lowers triglycerides, could that be one way fish oil fights depression? “Yes, I think that’s a logical connection,” says NIH depression and fish oil expert Dr. Joseph Hibbeln.