by drpaul


The Shrinking Brain: Avoiding Alzheimer’s

As the Alzheimer’s disease epidemic continues to expand – some describe it as a ‘health meteor’ that’s going to strike the elderly populations from modern countries around 2025, great information is surfacing about how to avoid Alzheimer’s disease.


  • Small Brain Syndrome: People who have Alzheimer’s disease (AD) have ‘shrunken’ brains – i.e. smaller brain volumes; meaning their brains atrophy (and for you physiology nerds, their ventricles enlarge).[1]
  • Large Brain People: There are people, despite having the characteristic pathologic brain lesions commonly associated with AD, show no cognitive decline. Why? (i.e. what’s their secret?), what’s theneuroprotective mechanism in those people who don’t suffer even though they have the plaques? Larger brain volume.[2]
  • Fish Oil and Larger Brains: Blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids (that’s fish oil) lead to larger brain volumes (i.e. decreased brain atrophy).[3]
  • Exercise Helps Your Brain (… duh): What fires, wires. Regular exercise helps brain neurons to continually develop and stay healthy and is associated with preventing brain tissue loss and decreased incidence of Alzheimer’s.[4]

[1] Apostolova, Liana G, et al. Hippocampal Atrophy and Ventricular Enlargement in Normal Aging, Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI), and Alzheimer Disease Alzheimer Disease & Associated Disorders: Jan–Mar 2012; 26(1):17–27.
[1] Silbert, LC, et al Changes in premorbid brain volume predict Alzheimer’s disease pathology Neurology Aug 26, 2003 61(4): 487-492.
[2] Erten-Lyons, Deniz, et al. Factors associated with resistance to dementia despite high Alzheimer disease pathology Neurology January 27, 2009 vol. 72(4) 354-360.
[3] Pottala, James V. PhD Higher RBC EPA + DHA corresponds with larger total brain and hippocampal volumes Neurology (2014) First published online before print January 22, 2014 doi: 10.1212.
[3] Tan, ZS, et al. Red blood cell omega-3 fatty acid levels and markers of accelerated brain aging. Neurology Feb 28, 2012 vol. 78(9):658-664
[4] Erickson, Kirk I, et al. Beyond vascularization: aerobic fitness is associated with N-acetylaspartate and working memory Brain and Behavior 2012 January; 2(1): 32–41.
[4]Larson, Eric B, et al. Exercise Is Associated with Reduced Risk for Incident Dementia among Persons 65 Years of Age and Older. Ann Intern Med. 2006;144(2):73-81.

[4]Tian, Q, et al. Physical Activity Predicts Microstructural Integrity in Memory-Related Networks in Very Old Adults J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci (2014) First published online: January 28, 2014 doi: 10.1093.
[4]Colcombe, SJ, et al. Aerobic fitness reduces brain tissue loss in aging humans. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci 2003 Feb; 58(2):176-80.

Brain Plasticity

by admin


No, despite the name of this post, this isn’t about Dr. Paul in the ’70s.

The title of this journal article pretty much says it all: The impact of diet and exercise on brain plasticity and disease. [Pinilla FG, Nutr Health. 2006;18(3):277-84]

“Lifestyle involves our preference to engage in behaviors that can remarkably influence the fitness level of our body and brain. Dietary factors are a powerful means to influence brain function on a daily basis. Equally impressive is the action of exercise on cognitive function as documented by studies showing that exercise enhances learning and memory.”

Brain plasticity refers to the capability of the brain to lay down new neuronal pathways, make new connections – in other words, the brain’s function is improved at every stage of life when a healthy diet and exercise are a not only part of your lifestyle, but they are your lifestyle.

“A growing body of scientific evidence indicates that exercise has a positive impact on human health, including neurological health. Aerobic exercise, which is supposed to enhance cardiovascular functions and metabolism, also induces neurotrophic factors that affect hippocampal neurons, thereby improving spatial learning and memory.” [Cassilhas RC, et al Spatial memory is improved by aerobic and resistance exercise through divergent molecular mechanisms. Neuroscience 2012 Jan 27; 202:309-317]


Additional References:

Gomez-Pinilla F Collaborative effects of diet and exercise on cognitive enhancement. Nutr Health 2011;20(3-4):165-9

Gomez-Pinilla F The combined effects of exercise and foods in preventing neurological and cognitive disorders. Prev Med 2011 Jun1;52 Suppl 1:S75-80. Epub 2011 Jan 31


Fish Oil and its Effect on the Brain:
Wu A, Gomez-Pinilla F Docosahexaenoic acid dietary supplementation enhances the effects of exercise on synaptic plasticity and cognition. Neuroscience 2008 Aug 26;155(3):751-9. Epub 2008 Jun 17


Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Essential Supplementation

by admin

“Omega-3s.” You’ve heard about them in the news. You’ve seen them at the store. You’ve probably heard someone talking about cod liver oil. If you’re really lucky, your doctor may even have mentioned them to you. But what exactly are Omega-3 fatty acids?

The Bonfire Health nutrient glossary defines an essential nutrient. Certain fats are essential nutrients. A fat, chemically speaking, is made up of a long chain of carbon molecules whose distinct characteristic is that they do not mix with water. Many foods contain fats. Within these foods there are different types of fats. The fat that you find in butter or oil is different from the fat in a creamy avocado.

Omega-3/Omega-6 Ratio
When we eat these fats, we use them in our bodies. Fat has many essential roles inside our bodies. This includes the construction of cell membranes and the construction of hormones, not just energy storage (also known as the roll of blubber that is hanging around most Americans’ middles). The membrane of all of the cells in your body is constructed of a layer of fatty molecules known as lipids. This membrane is called the phospholipid bilayer.

One of the types of fat that make up this membrane are Omega-3 fatty acids. The other is Omega-6 fatty acids. It is best to have an equal amount of these fatty acids in your diet, in other words, a 1:1 ratio. The types of fat that you eat affect the type of fats that are found in your cell membranes. Therefore the types of fats you eat can affect how the cells function. When you eat an imbalanced consumption of Omega-6 and Omega-3, inflammation can wreak havoc on your body and your health.

There are three types of Omega-3 fatty acids that are most commonly discussed, as they are the most nutritionally important. A-Linolenic Acid (ALA) has 18 carbons. Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) has 20 carbons. And docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) has 22 carbons. Each of these are found in foods and need to be consumed regularly.

Sources of Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Good sources of Omega-3 fatty acids include nuts, seeds, and meat from healthy animals and fish. ALA is the easiest to obtain through diet, as is it prominent in nuts, seeds, avocados and other staples of the Bonfire Diet Style. DHA and EPA are a little bit harder to find. The most prominent sources are limited to fish or the algae that the fish eat while swimming around in the ocean. Three to four servings of fish (such as salmon, anchovies, sardines, and herring) per week usually does the trick, provided you aren’t overeating Omega-6 fatty acids.

Too Much Omega-6
Most Standard American Diets are extremely high in Omega-6 fatty acids - anywhere from 10-20:1 as compared to Omega-3s. This is integral in the onset of chronic diseases related to inflammation. If you are regularly consuming bread, pasta or cereals, which are high in Omega-6 fatty acids, then you are most likely not at a 1:1 ratio. We’ll say it again: Remove these foods from your diet.

Too Little Omega-3
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential, meaning that we need to consume them for life. If we do not eat enough of them, we will exhibit Omega-3 deficiencies. The most common Omega-3 deficiencies are skin problems, depression, poor vision, hyperactivity, increased susceptibility to infection, and inflammatory diseases. There is some evidence that a lack of Omega-3 in utero can cause developmental problems in infants that may lead to ADHD and other behavioral problems. Omega-3 fatty acids are one of the most widely-research nutritional supplements. They reduce the risk of heart disease and emotional disorders, and they even improve your skin and nails. Making sure you are getting enough Omega-3s is critical!

One Surefire Solution
The best way to ensure you are getting enough Omega-3 fatty acids is to take a high quality fish oil supplement every day. Make sure it includes DHA and EPA fatty acids. Make sure it is IFOS (International Fish Oil Standards) certified, guaranteeing that there are no harmful toxins in the product that the fish may have bio-accumulated over time. This is a no brainer! Get yourself some Omega-3!!

Essential Supplementation

by admin

Critical Thinking:  For our bodies to be healthy, the cells of our bodies need to be healthy.  For the cells to be healthy, optimal amounts of proper nutrients must be supplied – from what we eat and drink in the form of fresh, organic, whole foods and purified water, and, if necessary, by taking nutritional supplements.

Best Practices:  Take fish oil (Omega-3), probiotics, and a whole food supplement every day.

Vital Behaviors:

• Create the routine of taking supplements with breakfast (fish oil now comes lemon-flavored and makes a great addition to smoothies, either fruit smoothies or green smoothies).

• Make a rule that you cannot leave the house without taking your supplements.

• First action upon entering your kitchen each morning is to set out your supplements (yes, even before making coffee).

• Put your car keys in the fridge, next to the probiotics, so that you can’t leave the house without touching/taking your supplements.

As we eat, a balanced combination of nutrient-dense, whole foods makes it unnecessary to take a whole slew of vitamins or supplements.  As a matter of fact, as outlined in the Bonfire Health ideal diet, there are a limited number of essential supplements.  In order for a nutrient to qualify as an Essential Supplement, it must be an essential nutrient (it cannot be made by the body, and therefore it must be provided through our diets) and it must be difficult to consume adequate amounts in even the best diet.  Remember, these are supplements, not replacements!  Follow the Bonfire Health ideal diet and add the following:

1. Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acid (fish oil)

2. Probiotic

3. Whole Food Supplement

Supplements can fill in major gaps in your nutritional regimen; however, many people mistakenly believe that supplements can make up for poor eating habits.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Supplements are meant to supplement your whole food diet, not act as replacements.  At Bonfire Health, we have narrowed this concept down to what is called essential supplementation.  Essential supplements are those that are either impossible or nearly impossible to get through the foods you eat.

Traditionally or historically, “vitamins” have been formulated from bulk pharmaceutical chemicals such as vitamin A, vitamin B, etc.  Unfortunately this has resulted in very few nutrients being identified, labeled or included as critical nutrients or “vitamins.”  We now know though that all fresh, whole foods contain dozens, if not hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of nutrients.  That’s why it’s so critical to take a supplement made from whole foods, not over-the-counter “vitamin formulas” like Centrum or “One-A-Day” brands, which are made from bulk pharmaceutical chemicals.

What we now know is that there are literally thousands of compounds or nutrients that exist in food, in nature.  An apple, for example, may contain perhaps a thousand or more “phytonutrients,” none of which have been isolated or named, per se as a “vitamin” (see side bar on right).  This is why it’s critical to only put into your body food, or things made of food; this includes your “vitamins” or supplements.

1)  Essential Fatty Acids (EFA):  There are a group of critical nutrients called essential fatty acids (commonly known as “omega fatty acids”).  They play a role in virtually every cellular function within the body:

“The dietary fatty acids of the omega-3 series are rapidly incorporated into cell membranes and profoundly influence biological responses. In well-controlled clinical studies, consumption of omega-3 fatty acids has resulted in reduction of cardiovascular diseases including arrhythmias and hypertension, protection from renal disease, improvement in rheumatoid arthritis, improvement in inflammatory bowel diseases, reduced episodes of rejection, and protection from infection.”

[Alexander, JW, Immunonutrition: the role of omega-3 fatty acids. Nutrition July 1998, 14 (7): pp. 627-633 view abstract]

Modern man in general, and Americans in particular, are severely deficient in this group of critically essential nutrients called fatty acids.  Not only are we deficient, but what fatty acids we do take in through our diet are dangerously imbalanced.  Fatty acid balance is one of the “seven fundamentally altered nutritional characteristics of our ancestral (genetically congruent) diet.” [Mann NJ, Paleolithic Nutrition: What can we learn from the past? Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2004; 13 (suppl.): S17] view article

To simplify, there are two primary essential fatty acids:  Omega-6 and Omega-3 EFA.  Within the body, they should exist in an approximate ratio of 2:1 (Omega-6 to Omega-3).  Current estimates show a severely disproportionate amount of Omega-6 from the modern diet, now creating a ratio between 15:1 and 22:1.  What makes this even worse is the modern diet is now toxic with unhealthy forms of Omega-6 EFA found in hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils, and fried foods.

Again, to simplify this discussion, the focus is really on deficiencies in Omega-3 EFAcombined with an overabundance of Omega-6 EFA.

So What’s The Answer?
Take an Omega-3 essential fatty acid supplement; meaning purified fish oil.  The good news is that fish oil now comes lemon-flavored, so it’s tasty by itself or as an excellent ingredient in smoothies.  It also must be said at this juncture that it’s equally critical to minimize your intake of grains because one of the primary causes of an imbalance in Omega-6 comes from an excessive dietary intake of all grains, especially refined grains (i.e. wheat flour products like bread, cereals, pasta, crackers, cookies, cakes, etc.), as well as grain-fed meats.

2) Probiotics:  Probiotics are the natural “friendly” bacteria living within our bodies which play a critical role in immunity (current science has estimated that 80% of your immune system is located in the digestive system), digestion and nutrient synthesis and delivery.  Our bodies should have trillions of healthy probiotic bacteria present mainly in our large intestine, and to a lesser degree the stomach, small intestine, mouth, and vagina.  The problem is that today, modern man has deviated so far from eating fresh, high fiber fruits and vegetables, that “the daily present-age consumption of bacteria is a million times less than what was consumed by our Stone Age (Paleolithic) ancestors.” [Bengmark S, Immunonutrition: Role of biosurfactants, fiber, and probiotic bacteria. Nutrition Journal1998: 14:585-594]. The important fact here is that we are genetically identical to the Stone Age ancestors that Bengmark is referring to.

The Functions of Probiotic Bacteria:

• Eliminate harmful viruses, bacteria and yeast
• Reduce inflammation
• Fermentation and digestion of fiber
• Promote proper digestion, absorption and elimination
• Prevent diarrhea, bloating, gas, and constipation
• Protect mucosal lining of the stomach, small and large intestines, and vagina
• Support healthy immune function
• Increase resistance to infection
• Help keep skin healthy
• Assist in the production and delivery of vitamins

The critical functions of probiotics include:  digestion (especially the digestion of fiber), the synthesis and delivery of several vitamins (thiamine, folic acid, nicotinic acid, pyridoxine, and B12), as well as enzyme production, and inflammatory and immune response.

3)  Whole Food Supplements:  Most people know they should take a “vitamin.”  Any nutrient we put into our bodies should be made from food, not chemicals made to resemble what’s found in nature or what’s been isolated and fractionated from the “real thing.”  Brands such as One-A-Day or Centrum are NOT the answer.  These types of “vitamins” are made from bulk pharmaceutical chemicals.  The only supplements we should ever take MUST be made from whole foods, not isolated chemicals.

When formulating a whole food supplement, various plant foods, such as fruits and vegetables, sea vegetables, herbs, nuts, seeds, and grains are either juiced and dried, and/or ground up to be formulated into capsules or a powdered drink.  The obvious limitation to any supplement, even whole food supplements, is that it’s not the real thing (meaning fresh, whole food); that being said, the vitamins, minerals, and trace elements that are found in whole food supplements are significant and can go a long way in augmenting one’s nutritional status and health.