Recently I set out to write a short series of emails to promote the fish oil supplement from Real Dose Nutrition.
As always, that means I do research to find what is unique about the product and what is essential about it from the point of view of the prospect.
Likewise, I am always on the lookout for the story I am unfamiliar with because it is likely to be a story the prospect is also unfamiliar with. This helps to guarantee the sequence will provide value even if the reader is predisposed not to be interested in the item I am ultimately going to recommend to them.
In this case the research led me away from the fish oil I set out to promote.
Not because it is not an excellent fish oil. But because the research suggested there was something better out there from the point of view of brain health. Likely also from the point of view of cardiovascular health, but I did not get as far as researching that end of it.
So that is how I ended up writing a sequence promoting a krill oil supplement – and not one from Real Dose Nutrition (they currently do not have one) but from Bulletproof 360.
You will be able to see my thinking as you read through the three messages that transition us from the usual reasoning behind omega-3 fatty acid supplementation (fish oil) to less familiar but powerful scientific arguments that lead elsewhere (to krill oil).
Here we go…
PROMO #1: Begin With The Familiar
In the first message I want to suggest a transformation in the way the reader ought to think about omega-3 supplementation for the brain.
The best way I can think of to do this is to show my own transformation in thinking.
So I am going to begin with a quick review of the virtues of fish oil and provide information likely to be of use to the reader even if they have absolutely no intention of switching away from fish oil.
I will use their curiosity about my recently discovered long-held “mistaken thinking” to set the stage for the following (second) message where I can launch into the new science of omega-3 supplementation for the brain.
Hey, it's Carolyn Hansen and today I have
to admit that even I mess up on occasion
when it comes to the health of my brain.
Like just this week.
Not a complete flub, but I could certainly have done better...
What am I talking about?
Until recently I thought I had a pretty good idea why I was taking my fish oil supplement.
Fish oil is promoted by health marketers for all sorts of reasons related to our general physical and mental well-being.
That's because fish oil contains several essential omega-3 fatty acids which our bodies cannot produce.
So we depend completely on our diet to obtain these.
In my case I began to supplement for the health of my brain.
Because of this I was confident a little research into the fish oil market would allow me to make a strong recommendation to you about the best oil to take.
But that's not what happened.
On Monday I was confident I'd be able to arrive at my choice for a quality oil by the end of the day.
Tuesday at the latest.
All I needed to do was confirm that the fish oil I'd been taking for years was as beneficial for my brain as I remembered it being when I began buying it.
Then I could recommend you could begin taking it too.
The trouble with that?
By Friday I had cancelled my fish oil subscription and I have no intention of replacing it with another.
I suspect what that means is that if you've never particularly warmed to the idea of supplementing with a fish oil, or if you maybe tried it once and objected to the fishy burps or the aftertaste... well, then you'll probably fist pump after hearing what I'm about to tell you.
And if you ARE supplementing with a fish oil right now there's a good chance you won't be by the time I'm through.
That's because once I've explained to you the total rethink that got me to switch to this new alternative to fish oil I'm guessing you'll probably want to switch too.
At least if you're as fanatical as I am about making the "smart choice" when it comes to supplementing for the health of your brain.
So here's what I'm going to do.
First of all, because I discovered this week that the science of omega-3 fatty oil supplementation is WAY more complex than I'd ever given it credit in the past, I'm confident that one message on this topic just won't be enough to cover what I have to share with you.
But don't worry, I have no intention of over complicating this.
I'm going to give you just the Cliff Notes version of what I've figured out.
And to make the motivation for this drop dead simple I'm going to assume you don't want to know about ALL the benefits to your brain that science now attributes to the presence of the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil.
Instead, I'm going to stick to a discussion of just ONE benefit (but what I consider to be a significant one).
That is the ability of some omega-3 fatty acids to mitigate against some of very same biochemical processes that drive cognitive decline and Alzheimer's disease in particular.
- For the rest of this message I'll briefly tell you about fish oil classifications and how to tell immediately whether the oil you might be using is largely a waste of your money.
- In the following message I'll focus in on the critical omega-3 fatty acid that assists with "downregulating" the very same processes that crop up in discussions of cognitive impairment and Alzheimer's disease (you'll also discover that the optimal form of this omega-3 is nowhere to be found in fish oil - that's what I realized this week!).
- Then in the last message I'll tell you about the fish oil replacement I'll be using here on out. It's also an oil, but one that contains the critical omega-3 fatty acid in the form most suited to crossing the blood-brain barrier and short-circuiting 3 memory-erasing processes that are known to be associated with runaway brain shrinkage (i.e. Alzheimer's disease).
At that point you'll know pretty much
everything I know (at least in terms of
So... let me tell you now about the TWO basic types of fish oil so that by the end of this message you'll be able to head off to your pantry and figure out whether you've been buying the cheap stuff!
THE ETHYL ESTER FORM (THE CHEAP STUFF)
Unless you have taken the time to research it, you could be forgiven for thinking that what ends up in those gel caps is unadulterated fish oil.
What you might assume is the "good stuff".
But natural fish oil actually contains a lot more than just those brain-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, including toxins.
So the fish oil companies use an extraction process to get at the part of the oil they know you're willing to pay for.
Unfortunately the omega-3 fatty acids are hard to extract because they are attached to a triglyceride backbone.
So a chemical process is used to break the fatty acids off the backbone.
This turns them into "ethyl esters".
A portion of these ethyl esters contain the essential fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
That's the "good stuff" your brain craves.
DHA in particular makes up over 90 percent of the brain's fatty acid content.
I'll have a lot more to say about DHA and it's role in the maintenance of healthy cognition in the next message.
In their ethyl ester form the omega-3 fatty acids can be readily separated from the remaining fish oil "junk" and the EPA and DHA variants packaged into capsules for sale.
Most of the "cheap" fish oil you can buy is in this ethyl-esterified form.
Because the omega-3s are not bound up in the natural triglyceride structure found in unprocessed fish oil they turn out to be less bio-available to your body.
In other words, they have more of a tendency to simply pass through your intestines, rather than be dispersed for use throughout your body.
It also turns out that esterified fatty acids are less likely to deliver their payload (DHA) to the brain. But we'll talk more about that in the next message.
THE TRIGLYCERIDE FORM
There's no getting past the need for turning the omega-3s found in fish oil into ethyl esters.
The fish oil companies are more or less compelled to do it because it's the only way to extract the EPA and DHA components and produce a "clean" oil.
But they don't have to stop there.
Further processing is possible.
It costs more money to pull it off (which is why so many companies skip this step) but the esterified fatty acids can be reconstituted into their natural triglyceride form.
The end result is a higher-quality (and more expensive) fish oil.
How can you figure out whether your fish oil is this more bio-available type?
Look on the bottle. Because it is a mark of quality the supplier will likely tell you that their oil has been processed to triglyceride form.
Another way to be sure is the "styrofoam cup test".
Take a gel cap, puncture it with a push pin and squeeze the oil into the bottom of the cup.
If it is the cheap ethyl ester form of oil the bottom of the cup will dissolve in a few minutes.
The triglyceride form of oil will also eventually dissolve the foam cup, but not for a couple of hours.
Some fish oil suppliers of the triglyceride form claim their oil is up to 70 percent more bio-available than the cheap ethyl ester form.
That's a big difference!
In fact that's probably how I originally came to settle on the Super Critical Omega-3 TG fish oil formulation from Real Dose Nutrition:
My old fish oil supply. Good. Maybe not good enough.
But remember, for now I'm recommending you hold off from going with a fish oil solution for your omega-3 needs.
I'll have a completely different (in my opinion superior) recommendation in the third message of this short series.
Also there's more to the story of omega-3s than just the difference in the two main types of fish oils.
I'll talk more about that next time.
For now, keep in mind that if you ARE going to stick with a fish oil, then from the standpoint of bio-availability it's the triglyceride form you'll want to go with (the Super Critical Omega-3 TG formulation being a good example).
Tomorrow I'm going to talk about omega-3s in the context of processes in the brain known to be implicated in the progression of Alzheimer's disease.
The result will be that you are going to see at least one way in which fish oil leaves something to be desired when it comes to assisting with the natural biochemical processes that keep your brain sharp for life.
See you then,
PROMO #2: Introduce The New Science
In this message I am going to tackle the science behind one aspect of the neurodegenerative brain disease known as Alzheimer’s disease.
This is going to result in an implied deficiency for fish oil supplementation for the brain. It will also lead us to a logical alternative (krill oil) which can remove the “nutritional hole” that we have uncovered in fish oil.
The entire argument is going to hinge on the fact that each of us has a one in four chance of carrying a gene that as much as doubles or triples our chance of getting Alzheimer’s disease (dementia) compared to those who do not carry the gene.
It is the same scientific argument that convinced me that krill oil is likely to be more beneficial to the brain than fish oil. The assumption is that if the argument was strong enough to convince me it is likely to also convince the reader.
Two more observations about this particular message which is deserving of note.
The first is I really want to tell the reader that I think there is a strong connection between the type of DHA we supplement with and the size of our risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. This would be due to the presence of the APOE4 gene and the mitigating influence of DHA.
But legally we cannot do that with copy which promotes dietary supplements.
We can walk up to the line, discuss the physiological mechanisms which good health and disease may share, but we have to stop short of claiming a supplement can prevent a disease. If we did that we would be characterizing it as a “drug” in the eyes of the law, and that is a no-no.
So we concentrate instead explaining how the supplement might influence one or more physiological mechanisms and leave it to the reader to connect the dots. At least, that’s the guiding philosophy behind this message.
My final observation about this message relates to the choice of images.
I chose to add three. When I am discussing scientific processes I like to add an image to orient the reader, even if the graphic I come up with might be kind of cartoonishly simple. That’s certainly the case with the second image, which reminds the reader about what “plaques” and “tangles” are in the brain, and where they are situated with respect to neurons.
I also like to add human images when the message connects with a personal story. But that’s often difficult to do because usually the only source of images available to us is a stock image library.
In this case I wanted to emphasize the isolationist aspect of dementia. To reflect this state of mind I searched for an image of an older, slightly distraught woman, who I imagined might be sitting off by herself somewhere.
I settled on the “peek-a-boo” image you can see below.
To me the image suggests this woman is kind of in a world of her own. Her gesture seems out of place and a little jarring. But the image packs a wallop, in my opinion, and connects the abstract science we are about to get into to a very human condition, which is the dramatic change in mental functioning characteristic of dementia.
With this image we set the stage for the importance of what we’re about to learn in the remainder of the message.
The image of the old woman was the last to be added to this piece. When I looked the message over I just felt there was an emotional hole around the top of the message that needed to be filled. It’s that old “picture is worth a thousand words” idea.
Hey, it's Carolyn Hansen with the second
part of my exploration into whether you
really need to be supplementing with fish
oil for brain health.
I'll tell you right now: it's going to turn out you don't.
So, if you want to understand what caused me to cancel my high-grade fish oil plan and replace it with something else entirely, read on...
In my previous message I told you I was going to attempt to measure the "value" of fish oil supplementation against a single yard stick:
The reduced risk of cognitive impairment as you age.
For me, this is an important consideration because I lost my mother to Alzheimer's disease.
Memory loss, spatial disorientation, cognitive dysfunction, behavioral changes...
Before she died my mother went through it all.
The only "good" to come of it is that now I am driven to make sure the same thing never happens to me!
So let me tell you what I've figured out.
First of all, you don't have to get full-blown Alzheimer's disease to end up suffering from its effects.
That's because there's roughly a 1 in 4 chance you are carrying a gene known to switch on, at least to some degree, the same processes in your brain known to run rampant in the brains of those with Alzheimer's disease.
It's called the APOE4 gene.
Technically it's the 4th variant (allele) of a gene that codes for the APOE protein (more on what that does in a moment).
If you have a single copy of APOE4 it increases your odds of getting Alzheimer's by a factor of 2 to 3.
If you carry two copies of the gene then your risk goes up about 15-fold compared to someone who does not carry even a single copy.
About 65–80 percent of Alzheimer's disease diagnoses correspond to a genetic profile containing at least one APOE4 allele.
Clearly APOE4 is a significant factor in the Alzheimer's story, but by no means is it the only one.
Lots of other contributors also play a part.
In fact, devising a game plan to diminish your risk of dementia across the board was the sole motivation for my Ageless Brain program.
What I want to do here is go narrow.
To zero in on why you can do better than fish oil to try to combat your risk of cognitive impairment due to the presence of APOE4.
This seems worthwhile to me because, while it's not always possible to connect the dots between supplementing and improved brain health, in this instance we can do exactly that.
So let's start with the following image which shows the blood-brain barrier (the pink arc) and a couple of connected neurons in the brain:
If you've heard anything about the progression of Alzheimer's disease you likely know that the two hallmarks of disease pathology are "amyloid-beta plaques" and "tau tangles".
I won't dwell on what can go wrong in your brain to kick off these processes but the end result of aggregates of tau proteins (the tangles) inside neurons, and knots of amyloid-beta outside neurons, is typically long-term memory loss and the eventual death of neurons.
In short: your brain gets smaller as the condition worsens.
In a healthy brain both of these disruptive accumulations of protein are mitigated by the presence of the APOE protein.
APOE is produced in your brain where, among other tasks, it facilitates the transport of fatty molecules (like DHA) across the blood-brain barrier.
One of those *other* tasks involves APOE going about the job of directly clearing out excess amyloid-beta.
It also regulates glucose (blood sugar) transport across the blood-brain barrier by way of a special protein called GLUT (see image above).
This is important for our discussion because when the brain's energy supply is hampered the result is tau protein production goes up, leading to tangles.
The APOE4 variant of the APOE gene exerts its influence because of how it causes much LESS of the APOE protein to be produced in your brain.
The end result: more amyloid-beta plaques and tau tangles to contend with.
Bad enough on its own.
But that's not the end of the story, because it turns out that DHA - the omega-3 fatty acid that all the fish oil companies promote in their advertising materials - counters the disruptive effects of APOE4.
DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) has been shown to:
- Reduce formation of amyloid-beta plaques AND help clear them from the brain
- Directly reduce formation of tau tangles
- Increase the production of GLUT proteins to increase your brain's energy intake, and thus indirectly suppress tau tangles
So now those DHA-rich fish oils are looking
kind of attractive!
There's just one problem...
It's in the way DHA crosses the blood-brain barrier to get into your brain.
There are TWO mechanisms by which this happens and one of them is affected by the presence of the APOE4 gene.
By the time DHA arrives at the blood-brain barrier it has been metabolized by your body into one of two forms which we'll call "free" and "natural".
The free form gets into your brain by managing to squeeze through the narrow gaps between the cells that make up your blood-brain barrier.
Or it would if one of the effects of the APOE4 gene over time wasn't to damage the integrity of those narrow gaps and block the passage of free form DHA into your brain.
This wall damage also happens naturally as you age, but APOE4 accelerates the process.
Unfortunately the free form of DHA is also the primary form that results from the metabolism of fish oil.
Remember last time how I mentioned that fish oils come in the (cheap) ethyl ester form and the (high-quality) triglyceride form?
Well, the DHA in both these fish oil types mostly breaks down into this free form that gets progressively blocked over time by APOE4.
So when you carry the APOE4 gene (or worse, two copies of it) you'll eventually get very little benefit from taking a fish oil supplement.
At least when it comes to getting DHA past the blood-brain barrier and into your brain.
Luckily the story does not end there.
Because it turns out there is another source of DHA which breaks down inside your body into the "natural" form, and this natural form is completely impervious to the degrading influence of the APOE4 gene.
That's because the second mechanism for DHA passage through the blood-brain barrier does not involve squeezing through the gaps between blood vessel cells.
Instead it relies on a facilitated route that goes right through those cells.
A special transport protein can latch onto the natural form of DHA and pull it through to the other side of the barrier.
So regardless of whether natural aging or the effect of the APOE4 gene slowly makes it impossible for the free form of DHA to squeeze its way into your brain, the natural form of DHA continues to find a way in.
And once it's there it assists in cleaning up the mess caused by the amyloid-beta plaques and the tau tangles that are slowly taking your brain offline.
This is the reason I threw away my fish oil!
I have no idea whether I carry the APOE4 allele.
I have no idea whether I carry two copies of it.
What I do know is that by the time we reach 85 years of age 1 out of every 3 of us will have Alzheimer's which means out brains have become subverted by those plaques and tangles.
And if you think the way I do you're going to do what it takes to reduce the odds that you end up being the 1 out of the 3.
For me, that means supplementing with another form of marine-sourced animal oil that DOES contain a form of DHA that breaks down in your body into the natural form that can reach your brain regardless of your APOE4 status.
It turns out that DHA bound to phospholipids breaks down into the natural (absorptive) form and that phospholipid-bound DHA is abundant in krill oil.
That's why I have switched to a krill oil gel cap for my DHA supplementation:
Another option is fish eggs.
But if you prefer, as I do, a tasteless, long shelf-life option then the Omega Krill Complex from Bulletproof (the maker of coffee with the same name) is a great option.
I'll tell you more about why I think this is the case next time (I wasn't convinced at first, but once I ran the numbers it was a no-brainer for me!).
PROMO #3: An Apples To Oranges Comparison
In the second message I introduced krill oil as a logical alternative to fish oil. The reasoning was based on an obscure but potentially impactful scientific line of thought that explains why people who carry the Alzheimer’s-biasing APOE4 gene see their disease risk reduced when their diet contains fish, fish eggs, and krill, but not when they take DHA or fish oil supplementation.
In this final message I shift to a completely different concern. What if I am one of the 75 percent of the population which is unaffected by the argument presented in the second message because I do not carry the APOE4 gene?
Does it still make sense to switch to krill oil in this case?
Based on a comparison of the omega-3 fatty acid content of fish and krill oils, and the pricing, I show there is no penalty for making the switch, with the implied upside of potentially protecting your brain against the threat of cognitive impairment if you do happen to carry the APOE4 gene.
Hey, it's Carolyn Hansen and if you plodded your way through my last two messages (yes, I'll admit to being a little impressed if you did) you now know:
- After years of supplementing with a quality (triglyceride) fish oil I have traded in my clear yellow gel caps for opaque red ones (krill!)
- There's a method to my madness and it has to do with bypassing the Alzheimer's disease-biasing effects of the APOE4 gene (which we each have a 1 in 4 chance of having inherited from our parents).
If you've already forgotten the thrust of how mitigating the effects of APOE4 improves long-term cognition allow me to sum it up real quick:
- The omega-3 fatty acid DHA inhibits the formation of the "plaques" and "tangles" that glue up your brain cells to cause all the horrid symptoms associated with acute cognitive impairment (DHA also helps dissolve those plaques and tangles).
- Under the influence of the APOE4 gene only ONE type of DHA can gain access to your brain. It's the phospholipid-bound DHA found in fish, fish eggs, and krill (but not found in DHA or fish oil supplements) that gets through and clears out the cognitive impairment-causing gunk.
Hence krill oil for supplementation.
"But wait a minute," you're probably thinking.
"What if I don't have the APOE4 gene?"
"If I'm already happy with my current fish oil pills, is there any good reason for a non-APOE4 carrier to switch?"
That's an excellent question!
The answer is no, not if you KNOW you don't carry the gene.
However, most people will not know their status (because it never occurs to them to get tested).
Fully one quarter of the population just accepts the 2-3 fold increase in Alzheimer's disease risk they inherit because of the gene.
Me, I prefer to play it safe, and just assume I might have the gene.
So I now supplement with krill to mitigate against its effects to some degree by facilitating the passage of DHA into my brain.
The only remaining question might be whether you risk penalizing yourself by switching to krill if you indeed do not carry the gene.
The only possible penalty I can think of is price.
That leads to asking the question: Is krill-derived DHA any more expensive than DHA from fish?
The answer: no, it's not.
At least not compared to my former high grade fish oil subscription from Real Dose Nutrition.
Here's my analysis based on a "3 pill" serving for the fish oil and krill oil pills...
SUPER CRITICAL OMEGA-3 TG (fish oil)
- EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid): 1200mg
- DHA (docosahexaenoic acid): 750mg
- Other omega-3s: 450mg
- 90 pill cost: $39 (subscription)
OMEGA KRILL COMPLEX (krill oil)
- EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid): 1328mg
- DHA (docosahexaenoic acid): 720mg
- Phospholipids: 150mg
- 90 pill cost: ~$36
Overall the EPA and DHA composition is about the same and the pricing is very similar (measured on a per mg basis for DHA it's virtually the same).
So there is NO cost penalty for switching from a high-grade (triglyceride) fish oil to a quality krill oil like the one offered by Bulletproof.
Plus you get the phospholipid-bound form of DHA which appears to be the type favored by your brain.
That's because, unlike the non phospholipid-bound type, absorption into your brain doesn't fade over time as the walls in the cells of your blood-brain barrier get "wrinkled" because of age, or because the APOE4 gene is active in your body and enhancing the wrinkling / DHA blocking effect.
Krill oil helps DHA get to where it needs to go so that it can clear out the brain cell-damaging plaques and tangles that are known to increase the likelihood of acute cognitive impairment with age.
Honestly, if I'd known any of this 20 years ago when it might have made a difference I would have put my mother on krill oil.
Then again, krill oil supplementation probably wasn't available back then and I certainly would have had no idea about her APOE4 status.
Still, better safe than sorry is the way I see it.
If you are at all concerned about the threat of cognitive decline in the years ahead then in my opinion the safe bet is to add krill oil to your diet.
This is where I get mine:
You will have noticed that these messages are fairly long. Ordinarily I would prefer shorter messages. But in this case the science does not easily lend itself to more compact arguments. Not without sacrificing clarity of message.