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Q & A with Dr. Barry Sears: The Benefits of Omega-3 Ultra-refined Fish Oil


 

 

In 1995 your diet was simply called The Zone Diet. In the 21st century, it is now the omega-3 Zone Diet because of your strong emphasis on highly pure and refined omega-3 fatty oils. Why have you become such a supporter of this type of oil, the purified omega-3s, as part of your regular diet routine?

Dr. Sears
Well, actually, I’ve always been a very strong supporter of omega-3 fatty acids. The reason why is because they control a group of hormones called eicosanoids. These are the hormones that control inflammation. I stated earlier that if you control inflammation, you control your future. Until recently, there was not the ability to have high enough levels of these fatty acids in a purified state in the body, due to lack of refining technology. But now they exist. They’ve become a critical part of the Zone Diet because the Zone Diet has as its overall philosophy to control hormones that can be altered by the diet. There’d be two in particular. One is the hormone insulin, which we affect by the amount of balance of protein to carbohydrate at every meal. And the other group of hormones – super hormones – are these hormones known as eicosanoids. And these can now be controlled by high enough levels of omega-3 fatty acids in the diet, especially those omega-3 fatty acids from purified fish oil.

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We hear in the news that fish is good for us, but we also hear that it’s bad for us. What do you see is going on behind this confusion?

Dr. Sears
The reason we hear that fish is good for us is because it’s rich in these omega-3 fatty acids that can help us control inflammation. That is the good news. Why are we hearing that fish is bad for us? Because all fish in the world today are contaminated, contaminated with the mercury, the PCBs, and the dioxins that we put into the environment. So it puts the consumer on the horns of a dilemma: I’m told by the government that fish will help me have a brighter future, but I’m told not to eat fish because they’re contaminated. As a consequence, people are eating less fish now than ever because they’re afraid, and rightfully so, about the contaminants.

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We have two basic types of Omega fats. If you would, explain those two types and why they are considered essential fatty acids.

Dr. Sears
We have to go back in history probably about 80 years when they first did the experiments of taking all fats out of the diets to see what would happen to animals. What happened was pretty striking: they died. They added back certain fats, and then the animals lived. At the time, those fats were called vitamin F. Now we call them essential fatty acids. But there are two groups of essential fatty acids: one group is called omega-6 fatty acids, the other is called omega-3 fatty acids. Now, why is that distinction important? It’s the omega-6 fatty acids that cause inflammation; it’s the omega-3 fatty acids that decrease inflammation. What you have to have is a balance of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids. If the balance is too high, we have increased inflammation and that means accelerated heart disease, cancer, and Alzheimer’s. If the ratio is too low, it means our immune system is too depressed and now prone to increased chronic disease because of increased infection. Therefore, we have to likewise try to maintain the balance of those fatty acids also in the Zone.

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How has our diet changed in the last 70 years?

Dr. Sears
Probably the major change in our diet in the last 70 years has been a growing imbalance in the increasing levels of omega-6 fatty acids with a corresponding decrease in omega-3 fatty acids. Keep in mind that two generations ago, standard issue for every child was a tablespoon of cod liver oil. Disgusting as it was, it was very rich in long-chain omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil. But in the last 70 years, we’ve had an explosion of vegetable oils, all rich in omega-6 fatty acids: corn oil, safflower oil, soybean oil. These are now the staples of the American diet. And as a consequence, with this increasing amount of omega-6 fatty acids that cause inflammation, coupled with the corresponding decrease in long-chain omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil, we have seen the chronic disease rates skyrocket dramatically over the last 70 years.

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Doctor, if you would, explain to us the agricultural revolution of the 1900s and what impact that had on our diet.

Dr. Sears
Well, the revolution of the 1900s had a great impact on society as we now have greater mechanization. We basically have far greater production to feed grains than we really had before, and that gave rise to a growing percentage of grains and starches in our diets. At the same time, this mechanization allows us to extract omega acids from vegetable seeds and also supply this. We tend to forget that, at the turn of the last century, vegetable oils were very, very expensive commodities. And as we decreased the price, they became more and more accessible, unfortunately being very rich in omega-6 fatty acids. We started increasing the levels of inflammation in our society as a consequence.

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Approximately what drop in percentage has America seen in our consumption of omega-3s since the turn of the twentieth century?

Dr. Sears
In the last hundred years, we can now estimate the amount of the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids in our diet has dropped by some 95 percent. That’s a dramatic reduction. That basically is right there the greatest public health disaster in the twentieth century, the fact that our decreased amounts of omega-3 fatty acids coupled with a corresponding increase of the omega-6 fatty acids and the change in those patterns can be directly linked to the growing rates of heart disease. We thought it was all due to cholesterol, but we now know heart disease is not a disease of cholesterol, but rather a disease of inflammation. The epidemic of heart disease we have -- and it is still the No. 1 killer -- is because we have an epidemic of inflammation in our society.

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Would you explain for us the difference between the new pharmaceutical grade, or “ultra refined,” omega-3 fish oils and what you typically find in a health food store?

Dr. Sears
Well, as I said earlier, I have always been a very, very strong proponent of omega-3 fatty acids. But I’ve always been limited for the amount I could recommend for someone to add to their diet because of the toxins involved in that. That’s why this new breakthrough in refining technology occurred only three years ago. It is a new way of refining the fish oils and removing the toxins and concentrating up the fatty acids so that you have a much more purified, more potent version. It takes about 100 gallons of what you find in the health foods store to make one gallon of this new -- what I call almost weapons grade -- fish oil: highly concentrated, highly pure. This is important because the fish oil we get in a health food store comes from crude fish oil, which in many ways can be viewed as the sewer of the sea. When fish oil is produced, one squeezes it out of the fish. All the toxins that are fat soluble, like the PCBs, the mercury, and the dioxins, go with the oil and become highly concentrated in that oil. The good news was that nobody was taking enough of the fish oil to get too many of the toxins. The bad news was that nobody was taking enough of the fish oil to get any of the benefits. Now, with these new, ultra -refined fish oil concentrates, we can now get the fatty acids in a highly concentrated form without the impurities. This, in my opinion, ushers in a whole new dawn of medicine. Medicine is all about controlling inflammation, and the most powerful agent we have to do that turns out to be these ultra-refined fish oil concentrates.

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If it’s not ultra-refined, and it’s the kind that you’re getting from these health food stores, this so-called “sewer of the sea” that you mentioned, I would assume that fish oil could actually be doing them more harm than help.

Dr. Sears
That’s definitely the case because these toxins are known carcinogens, known neurotoxins. These toxins are kind of like the roach motel – once they check in to your body, they don’t check out. That’s why we look at societies who basically eat a lot of fish, who have great health benefits like the Japanese, who have the greatest longevity in the world, the greatest health span (our longevity minus years of disability), the lowest rates of heart disease, and the lowest rates of depression. They eat lots of fish. But if we look at the blood levels of the Japanese, the levels of these toxins are very close to the upper limits set by the World Health Organization. So, until we had access to these new ultra-refined fish oil concentrates, we really had no way of getting the benefits of fish oil without putting our bodies at great future risk.

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Why are these highly pure, ultra-refined omega-3s so expensive for the consumer?

Dr. Sears
Well, as I mentioned earlier, it takes 100 gallons of what you buy in a health food store to make one gallon of this. That doesn’t mean it’s 100 times more expensive. In many ways, it’s not all that more expensive because what you’re paying for is not the fish oil, what you’re paying for are the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids. By being more concentrated, you can actually get greater volumes of these for actually a lesser price. So, even though these are very expensive to make for the consumer, the price differential is probably no more than 50 percent greater than buying the sewer of the sea. If you’re going to take fish oil, it makes good sense to take the best you possibly can.

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I had the good fortune of being able to come to your facility in the Boston area not too long ago, and you gave me a teaspoon of the liquid version of the omega-3. You took it right out of the freezer, and for me it was not distasteful. What have you done to make your product so palatable?

Dr. Sears
In the process of purifying all the fatty acids and removing all the toxins, we also are able to remove many of the objectionable taste characteristics. We often think of fish oil as something that smells and tastes like cod liver oil, and that has to be the world’s most disgusting food ever developed by mankind. In reality, these new ultra-refined fish oil concentrates are very bland, very palatable, and very easy to take. New technology will develop that will allow them to be mixed into almost a milkshake, and they will have absolutely no taste. That becomes very important because if something doesn’t taste good, people will not take it on a lifetime basis. And if there’s only one supplement that you want to take on a lifetime basis that will have the greatest hormonal impact, it would be purified fish oils.

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Current studies are revealing that a child’s brain needs these ultra-refined omega-3s. Why is that?

Dr. Sears
Your grandmother often talked about fish oil as being brain food, and actually she was quite right. About 60 percent of the weight of the brain turns out to be fat, and about 20 percent of that fat are these long-chain fatty acids only found in fish oils. Without those fats, the brain does not function very well. The child’s brain is growing at a very rapid rate, and these fatty acids are so critical in early life to give your child a chance for the future. Once those neuropathways are laid down, they’re down there forever, and it’s very hard to change them. But if they have the adequate levels of these fatty acids, you can lay them down more effectively, and insure much superior cognitive function. So for a child, fish oil is, without a doubt, the most important supplement their parents can give them.

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These fish oils that are found in the health food stores or the grocery stores, they’re all going to try to market themselves as the very best. People need to know how to make sure they’re buying the best stuff, the right stuff. What tips can you give our listeners that will help them know they’re getting the best?

Dr. Sears
Here’s one very easy tip: Take your fish oil and put it in the freezer. If it freezes, it’s probably not the good stuff because the fish oils will tend to freeze because they’re rich in saturated fats that can only be removed by the same refining process that removes the toxins. Here’s another simple test: Bite into it. If it’s very bland, then probably it’s a good material. If it’s kind of fishy, you can be guaranteed that it’s the sewer of the sea. That freezing test is probably your best indicator whether or not the material is highly purified and therefore possibly suitable for human consumption.

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We have heard you say in the past that the ultra-refined EPA and DHA concentrates are as close to a medical miracle as we’ll see in the 21st century. Would you explain that?

Dr. Sears
The reason I make that statement – I don’t use the word miracle very often – is because these high potency, high dose omega-3 fatty acids can have such a great impact across the board of virtually every chronic disease state, whether it be heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s, attention deficit disorder, or chronic pain. The data is overwhelming that these omega-3 fatty acids, if taken in high enough levels, can have significant impact. The reason why? Because each of those disease states that I just discussed, as its underlying core, is caused by inflammation. That’s why these are so powerful: Control inflammation and you have a medical miracle. The power of fish oils, their only side effect, is that they make you smarter. Yes, we have drugs that control inflammation, but they have some side effects, things like immune suppression or osteoporosis or death. More people die in America each year from taking the right amount of anti-inflammatory drugs than die from AIDS. And we have an alternative right now. The alternative is concentrated fish oil concentrates that allow us to control inflammation more effectively, without the side effects. That, to me, is a medical miracle.

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I want to go back to something you said earlier because it’s amazing to me. This is to help us understand better the high levels of purity and concentration in your product, which you’re actually talking about. You mentioned that it takes about 100 gallons of the health store grade omega-3 to produce only one gallon of the ultra refined omega-3. Is that really possible?

Dr. Sears
It’s not only really possible, it’s actually true. The fact is that the refining technology to get the highly purified materials does have to go through a lot of fish oil. The question is, where does the other 99 gallons go? It turns out that these 99 gallons that are now left behind are now highly enriched in these toxins. Obviously, it can’t be used for human consumption, and so what the plant that makes this does is use it for fuel. It turns out that it’s a very good burning fuel, and this is a way of getting rid of the last dregs that have no use for humans.

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I like your term “weapons grade” omega-3, as well. How well does the medical community understand the whole issue and the importance of purity in omega-3s?

Dr. Sears
I think it’s pretty clear. I gave a seminar at Harvard Medical School about a year ago to their leading omega-3 fatty acid researchers, and after the seminar, I just asked routinely, “Do any of you take fish oil?” They all said no. I said, “Why not? You all know the benefits.” They agreed and said, “But we’re scared of the toxins; we’re scared of the contaminants.” So here you have the top researchers in the world knowing the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids but who were afraid to take it themselves because of the toxins. They were not aware that these new oils have appeared where these toxins have been removed. Once they knew they said, “Where can I get this stuff?” because we know that if we take enough of it, it will change our lives because the research we have is so compelling, so robust, that no one can deny it. So, as we go to more of the physician community, present the data of what inflammation is, the consequences, and how we have new technologies like the Zone Diet and highly refined fish oil concentrate, people get very excited. Now that we can measure inflammation, they can say, if it really does work, I should see the result. And you do. You see it in a matter of weeks.

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Besides your telling them personally and telling them in group settings, as you mentioned earlier at the Harvard Medical School, what else is being done to educate the medical professionals of our country on the need for high levels of ultra-refined omega-3?

Dr. Sears
I think it’s looking to get to them by writing books and having audio books such as this. If you’re a drug company, you have no vested interest in educating the doctors about the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids. That’s one of the problems. Our doctors are primarily educated, after they leave medical school, by the drug companies in terms of new breakthrough drug products. But no drug company would want to tell a doctor about the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids because you can find that the amount of drugs they might use in the future would be highly diminished. So we have a problem with how to get to physicians. Seminars are one way. But writing books for the general public and having them have access to ask their doctors questions like, “Why aren’t you prescribing me omega-3 fatty acids? I’ve read the books, I’ve read the research. I want to have my brain, my body, my heart, in the best possible condition. And if not, why are you not giving me a prescription for these fatty acids before you start putting me on some type of pharmaceutical?” This is why many doctors are very open now, because their patients are forcing them to go back and understand the power of these omega-3 fatty acids, if purified, to begin to affect a large number of chronic disease conditions.

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Earlier you told us about the omega-3s and the omega-6s and the imbalance in our society that we have in consuming those fatty acids. If you would, touch a little bit more on that. What is it we can do as consumers to help balance that out?

Dr. Sears
As I mentioned earlier, as we basically increase the amount of omega-6 fatty acids in our diet, what we are doing is increasing the amount of inflammation in our bodies. That is the underlying cause of disease, and it is also the underlying cause of the aging process. How can we reverse that? It is very simple. One, we take supplements rich in omega-3 fatty acids, assuming the supplements are purified and therefore suitable for human consumption. Second, we stop taking in large amounts of omega-6 fatty acids. That’s pretty easy to do also. When we stop using vegetable oils like corn oil and soybean oil, and replace them with oils such as olive oil, in the process we reduce the amount of omega-6 fatty acids. By reducing the amount of omega-6 fatty acids, and by increasing the amount of omega-3 fatty acids, in a very short period of time – no longer than 30 days – we begin to reverse the inflammation in our bodies. That’s a powerful statement: Thirty days to change your future.

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Many people are taking flaxseed oil, believing that they are fulfilling their daily requirement for EPA and DHA. Is that an effective way to get a daily dose of omega-3?

Dr. Sears
Not really. Flax does contain omega-3 fatty acids, but they are the much shorter chain varieties that need to be transformed by the body into the long-chain varieties in order to get the anti-inflammatory properties. In the human body, this transformation is very, very slow and very, very inefficient. Our best estimates: It takes 50-100 times more flaxseed oil to get the same hormonal benefits of a much smaller volume of purified fish oil. It’s not that flaxseed oil is bad. It’s just that you have to consume so much of it that you’ll get fat in the process. The increased body weight will give rise to increased inflammation, so you’ve solved one problem and made the other problem. It just doesn’t make good sense to take flaxseed oil if you’re trying to change the balance of eicosanoids in your body.

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Dr. Sears, this is the part of the interview that I have most been looking forward to. It’s astonishing to me to hear about all of the great science behind omega-3. But I get really excited when I hear about the vast amounts of research that have already been completed, and are currently underway, as it relates to reversing a variety of chronic diseases; things that we have heard about and felt that we had no hope for. Now we have omega-3, and have that hope. You have said that eating the wrong foods and consuming too much omega-6 can cause inflammation in our body. Would you help us better understand this silent inflammation you talk about, and what role it plays in heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s, ADD, and other such diseases as those?

Dr. Sears
We often make medicine a lot more complicated than it has to be. We find that we have the different doctrines: We have cardiologists, the oncologists, we have neurologists; and each one has their own little fiefdom. But in reality these diseases, and virtually all chronic diseases, have a linkage: They are linked to increased levels of silent inflammation. This is the inflammation that tears down the tissues, but is below the perception of pain. That’s what makes it so dangerous – you knew nothing about it. But now that we can measure the silent inflammation for the first time, we find it’s everywhere. And it appears that every chronic disease is started by this inflammatory process. It’s as if the body doesn’t know how to call off the dogs of war. Without inflammation, we would die. It’s our only defense against bacteria or viruses or fungi or parasites. But we also have to call back the soldiers of the inflammatory process, and if we don’t do it completely, they keep on attacking the body, the brain, the heart, and the immune system. We have to realize that many of our chronic diseases really emanate from this inability to completely turn off an inflammatory response completely and save it for when we really need it. This is why this is so exciting, because we now have a linkage that goes through all chronic disease. We don’t need a separate drug for heart disease, or a separate drug for neurology, or a separate drug for oncology. Maybe we could have the same drug, our food, to control inflammation.

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How does this silent inflammation start inside of someone?

Dr. Sears
It really starts when our hormones stop communicating well with each other. Inflammation is controlled by hormones, particularly the hormones called eicosanoids. As long as they’re talking to each other, the inflammation process is kept under control. But what causes these miscommunication problems between eicosanoids that lead to the inflammation process being constantly turned on? It turns out, there are two things: increased levels of the hormone insulin, and increased production of omega-6 fatty acids in your diet. So the fact is that we have ways of, in effect, reestablishing hormonal communication of our immune system via these eicosanoids that allow us to control inflammation. If we don’t, it goes uncontrolled, and it starts taking years off our life because the same increased inflammation is the primary cause of the aging process.

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Where does the omega-3 fat get its anti-inflammatory qualities?

Dr. Sears
What it does is basically compete for the omega-6 fatty acids, which are pro-inflammatory. That is, they are the building blocks of those eicosanoids that cause pain, whereas the omega-3 fatty acids inhibit their formation; therefore, they become the building blocks of those eicosanoids that prevent pain. So you need a balance of both those in your body. Actually, you need a balance in each one of your 60 trillion cells. The only way you can do that is by the food we eat, because now, in a matter of weeks, we can re-juggle the balance of these fatty acids in each of our 60 trillion cells because they are very dynamic in terms of how they interact with our diet.

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Can you share with our listeners a pivotal study that I absolutely found astonishing when I first learned about it that put omega-3 research on the front burner: the study on the pigs?

Dr. Sears
This was a study that was published nearly 20 years ago in the New England Journal of Medicine. It was a fascinating study because the pictures told a thousand words. This is a study where they took pigs – they get arthrosclerotic lesions similar to humans – and put them on similar diets. I would call it the worst possible diet: high in saturated fat, high in refined sugar. The only difference between the two groups of pigs was one got extra fish oil, and the other one did not. After six months, they looked at the blood levels of both sets of pigs. As might be expected, they had massively elevated levels of cholesterol and massively elevated levels of bad cholesterol. Then, when they killed the pigs to look at the arteries, the group that had gotten the really bad diet without the fish oil, as you might expect, their arteries were almost totally blocked after only six months. But the astonishing thing was the other group. The other group that got the same terrible diet had the same terrible high cholesterol levels, but the arteries were as clean as a whistle. How can this be? Well, it turns out that heart disease is a disease of inflammation, not a disease of cholesterol. To keep the inflammation in check, you can basically eat a bad diet as long as you’re taking enough fish oil to counteract. This really was a pivotal study because it said, What if we only took enough fish oil? Could we bring heart disease - the number one killer of males and females in America – to its knees and make it the same rare disease it was at the turn of the last century, when we ate much higher levels of fish oils in our diet and much lower levels of omega-6 fatty acids?

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As you mentioned, this study was nearly 20 years ago, but we are still hearing a lot on the news about cholesterol really being the big thing behind heart disease. But that’s not really the story, that’s not really the truth.

Dr. Sears
Well, it really isn’t. We want to believe theologies. We want to believe that cholesterol is the villain, and if we removed cholesterol from the diet, then we’d all see heart disease dissipate. We heard that story 20 years ago: if we only removed fat from the diet and ate fat-free carbohydrates, we’d all be healthy. It didn’t play very well. Neither does the cholesterol story. And the reason is, even though there’s a new group of drugs called statins, it turns out all their benefits have very little to do with the lowering of cholesterol. A totally unexpected side effect of the statins was that they had anti-inflammatory properties. So, all of the great reductions of mortality were coming not from lowering cholesterol, but from lowering inflammation. The beauty of that story was when they took people who had already suffered a heart attack and gave them only fish oil, the reduction in mortality was exactly the same as the statins. So rather than using a very expensive drug that has lots of side effects, why not simply feed fish oil? It’s a very attractive and wonderful story because if we take adequate levels of fish oil, assuming it’s pure, we could make heart disease a very rare disease again, in spite of whatever we eat, if we believe the pig study, which is a very powerful one that should be put on the refrigerator of every American today.

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Can someone be overweight and healthy?

Dr. Sears
Well the answer is, surprisingly, yes, if -- and that’s a very big if -- you are able to control inflammation. This is a very interesting aspect that we can look at some examples. Let’s look at Winston Churchill. Now, the man was not in great shape. He was definitely overweight. But he was as sharp as a tack and lived into his 90s. At the other extreme, we have Jim Fix, who was at the beginning of the running craze, who said if we only run long enough, we’ll live forever. He died at age 51 even though he had run something like 26 marathons. He was definitely physically fit, but he was not well. What’s the difference between the two individuals? The levels of inflammation. So it is possible to be overweight and fat, and basically be healthy. But it’s a very dangerous game to play. The reason why? Because the more body fat you carry, the more inflammation you’re generating. Now, if you’re eating a good, healthy diet and taking fish oil, you can get over that. But it’s always best to play the cards on both sides: Try to reduce the excess body fat and make sure you’re taking adequate levels of omega-3 fatty acids to give your body the best possible chance to live that long life we all strive for.

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If you would, explain the impact of these unique ultra-refined omega-3s and how they improve the immune system.

Dr. Sears
It’s all about communication. That’s why these omega-3 fatty acids can help improve the hormonal communication system that controls how we respond to outside invaders. That’s what the immune system is for, to keep the body operating and at a ready alert to attack outside invaders without attacking ourselves. The omega-3 fatty acids are basically the key players that turn down an overactive immune system so it only attacks the outside invaders and doesn’t attack us. Now, as we attack our own bodies, we set ourselves up for chronic disease.

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Terminally ill patients with AIDS or cancer reach a point known as cachexia where they start suffering extreme weight loss and start wasting away. What impact, if any, do these powerful ultra-refined omega-3s have on this wasting away period?

Dr. Sears
In cancer, when a patient gets cachexia and begins wasting away, you know the end is near. And yet, the only drug that’s been able to turn back cachexia and help patients to gain weight is high doses of omega-3 fatty acids because it basically dampens down a certain hormone that is the underlying cause of that cachexia. In cancer therapy, these are the most hotly investigated ways now of reversing the most dramatic ravages of cancer itself. Again, animal studies are pretty conclusive that when you feed animals high doses of these omega-3 fatty acids, they rarely get cancer. Even in patients taking chemotherapy or radiation, when they’re fed these omega-3 fatty acids prior to that, the amount of damage done by the chemotherapy or the radiation is remarkably reduced. So, in terms of cancer chemotherapy, these omega acids are very, very powerful agents that can be a powerful boon to enhancing the action of our immune systems.

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What happens to the immune system as we age?

Dr. Sears
Well, one of the things that happens is it becomes dysfunctional. It no longer attacks outside invaders. It begins looking at our own body and attacking that. The reason why is this breakdown of communication. Without an adequate control, which the omega-3 fatty acids provide, once these inflammatory responses are initiated, they become like a dumb bomb searching for new targets. The terms of the targets are usually us. This is why the omega-3 fatty acids have become so important. They’re able now to bring the immune system back under control to keep it ready for action when it has to be in action, but turn it down so it no longer attacks us.

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Why does our immune system get weaker as we age?

Dr. Sears
One of the reasons is because we increase inflammation as we age. We often talk about hormones decreasing as we age, and many do. But certain hormones actually increase. One hormone is insulin. As we age, we get fatter, and as we get fatter, we make more inflammation that the body tries to attack thinking it’s an outside invader. Another group of hormones that increase as we age are these pro-inflammatory eicosanoids. Why? Because we take in larger amounts of omega-6 fatty acids and decreasing amounts of omega-3 fatty acids. As a consequence, our immune system basically goes on constant alert, thinking it’s fighting new invaders, when in reality it’s just attacking ourselves. We take this aspect of not being able to fight outside invaders effectively or attacking ourselves as part of the aging process, but we have no one to blame but ourselves. It’s a breakdown in hormonal communication.

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We talked earlier about you working with some of our nation’s top athletes and Olympic gold medalists. How does your plan in taking these ultra-refined omega-3s help these performers?

Dr. Sears
We often think of athletes as the ultimate in wellness. They look great in swimsuits and they’re physically fit, but are they well? The answer is no they are not because they are constantly inflamed. That’s the hallmark of a great athlete. They train too hard; they train too much. But if you can increase that inflammation, allowing you to compete more effectively or go back to exercising more rapidly from one bout to the next, it gives them an unfair advantage. That’s basically why the Zone Diet has been used so successfully by so many world athletes. It helps them control inflammation. In their particular aspect of sports, if they can control inflammation, they have an unfair, significant advantage over their competitors. Those who have followed the Zone program to control insulin and have taken the omega-3 fatty acids have gotten that type of advantage. That’s why the athletes I have personally worked with have won 21 gold medals in the last three Olympics. With the new Olympics coming up, we expect many more to be taken by those who, not only in America, but on a worldwide basis, are recognizing the power of the Zone Diet plus fish oil to improve their athletic performance.

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I was brought up believing, speaking of athletes, that a big carbohydrate meal the night before a big track meet or a big event, whatever that might be, was good for you. I guess that’s not good science, is it?

Dr. Sears
No, it turns out that it’s almost just the opposite. When you eat a big carbohydrate meal, what you’re going to do is form a lot of the hormone insulin, and that’s going to drive down blood sugars and do everything possible to reduce your performance the next day. Now, why did this mythology start out? It is true that athletes need a certain amount of glycogen in their muscle cells because they burn that at high rates during athletic performance. But they’re led to believe that since glycogen is sugar, that if I eat lots of carbohydrates -- the maximum I probably could -- the more muscle glycogen I would have. It turns out that new research says you can reload muscle glycogen much faster, to much higher levels, not by eating more carbohydrates, but by eating a more stable balance of protein and carbohydrate. How could this be? No one had ever done the science until recently. Now the science has been done, and people will not accept it. They say, "Don’t confuse me with the facts; I want my high carbohydrate meal even though the science says I will reload muscle glycogen far faster and far more efficiently eating less carbohydrate and less protein." But again, as I said earlier, many things are based on belief systems. Nutrition, especially athletic nutrition, is one of those belief systems that does not respond well to the challenge.

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What kind of results are researchers at Harvard Medical School experiencing on the impact of ultra refined omega-3s when it comes to depression, including bipolar depression?

Dr. Sears
Well, we have an epidemic of obesity in our country and an epidemic of Type II diabetes. We talk about this all the time in the press. But we also have an epidemic of depression. We have more people suffering from depression than suffering from every disease except heart disease. We don’t talk about it, I guess, because it’s a very depressing subject. But the most difficult of all depressions to treat is bipolar depression. This is why the data coming from Harvard Medical School is so powerful. They did a study about four years ago where they took patients of two equal groups, all having bipolar depression, and half were put on high doses of ultra-refined fish oil, and the other half were put on olive oil. They followed them for a three-month period. At the end of three months, they had to stop the study. The first reason they had to stop the study was that the differences between the two groups was so great that it became unethical to complete the study. The second reason they had to stop the study was that they ran out of this weapons-grade fish oil. The ability to produce enough of it was so limited that they had gone through their production of it and there was no more to be had. Yet in that three-month period, they generated such dramatic results it remains the primary buzz of the psychiatric community. They were asking, Is it possible that simply enough omega-3 fatty acids can change the brain to make it well again? The last frontier of science is the brain. How we can manipulate it, and how we can make it as healthy as possible? What is the benefit of a longer living body if the brain isn’t there to take advantage of it?

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Have studies been able to detect low levels of omega-3s in the bodies of patients with depression?

Dr. Sears
These studies have been published over and over again showing conclusively that the severity of depression ranks very closely with the low levels of omega-3 fatty acids in the blood. Of course, that makes perfect sense because we know now from intervention studies that when you add back adequate levels of omega-3 fatty acids, you see a remarkable reversal of the depression in the individual. So, rather than giving our population Prozac, Paxil, or Zoloft, why not just give them omega-3 fatty acids? It will make them smarter, and there are no side effects other than improving how the body works and communicates with each of the 60 trillion cells.

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Are there other parts of the world that have long life spans and minimal incidents of depression and heart disease? And if there are, what characterizes those people?

Dr. Sears
There is one population that is the gold standard that we all should strive for, and that is the Japanese. The Japanese have the longest legitimate life span in the world today. The Japanese also have the longest health span, which is longevity minus years of disability. They have the lowest rates of heart disease, the number one killer of males and females in America, and they have the lowest rates of depression in the world today, the epidemic we just touched on which is also ravaging through America. Now, what’s the difference between the Japanese and the Americans? One is the levels of omega-3 fatty acids in their diet. They eat massive amounts of fish, much of it, unfortunately, contaminated, and that’s why they have higher levels of contaminants in their blood. Nonetheless, their levels of fatty acids, omega-3 fatty acids, can now decrease the levels of silent inflammation in their bodies. That’s why when we look at the blood of the Japanese, the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids is about one-tenth of what it is in Americans. Now the goal says if this true, if we can simply change the blood of Americans to look like that of the Japanese by feeding them enough fish oil, we should see a dramatic reduction in heart disease and depression, and, if we do this for a lifetime, an increase in their ability to live longer and better. So far, that is what all the data shows is happening in America. In controlled clinical studies with Americans, with our genetics, if we give them enough fish oil -- if it is suitable for human consumption -- we begin to see the reversals and movement toward a health status more equivalent to that of the Japanese than what we’re accustomed to. So it very well could be that omega-3 fatty acid could be a very, very simple intervention that can radically change our health care system virtually overnight.

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It’s a sad thing when the brain goes out prior to the body. We saw Alzheimer’s, for example, in Ronald Reagan. Can we, through ultra refined omega-3, give these people help? Can we give them hope?

Dr. Sears
I think the answer is definitely yes. We have to realize that Alzheimer’s does not start overnight; in fact, it is a disease that was in progress decades earlier. Studies show that those who have higher levels of silent inflammation are three times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s than those who don’t. So if we want to reduce the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s disease, then controlling inflammation today makes perfect sense. But what about those who already have Alzheimer’s? Is there any hope to bring them back? We think there is. We’ve been doing studies over the last three years that indicate that very, very high levels of fish oil, coupled with the Zone Diet, can actually begin to reverse Alzheimer’s. Now, as striking as that statement is, we’ve gathered the attention of Harvard Medical School. Our studies are ongoing today, repeating those exact same studies: Is it possible that giving high levels of fish oil and by controlling insulin with the Zone Diet we can begin to reverse the ravages of Alzheimer’s, which we know to be an inflammatory disease? If so, it’s a very exciting aspect because we know the following statistics. By the time you reach age 65, ten percent of the population will have Alzheimer’s, and if you reach age 85, 50 percent of that population will have Alzheimer’s. What’s the good of living longer if the brain is not there to enjoy it? But we can live that longer life, with our mental faculties intact, if we take adequate levels of fish oil. That’s why we’re using science to prove that otherwise very, very strong statement. Hopefully a year from now we’ll have the data that says that it can happen and, more importantly, it will happen.

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As we wait for this data, we do know that you already have people at an assisted living facility in Florida. Could you share some of this with us?

Dr. Sears
Well, it’s some of those testimonies that gave rise to Harvard’s interest in pursuing this study. We had done a study with a colleague of mine at an assisted living center specializing with Alzheimer’s patients. Over a three-year period, with some 300 patients, we found really no further progression toward Alzheimer’s, and in many cases some of the patients actually went home. Going home to live on your own after you’ve been living in an assisted living situation for Alzheimer’s is completely unheard of. When we went over to Harvard to speak to the professor, she pulled me out a piece of the paper from Florida that one of her patients had brought to her that said “Alzheimer’s patient goes home.” She said, “Now, tell me, this is a bunch of hooey, isn’t it?” I said no. She said, “Ok, why?” And for the next hour I explained eicosanoids, inflammation, and diet. She said, “You’ve got my attention. How can we work together?” If this becomes the only – the only – treatment known to medical science that can reverse mild to moderate Alzheimer’s, we think the data, and being joined by Harvard, will give rise to a new era of how we treat our elders, allowing them to regain their cognitive functions and age with grace and dignity.

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This assisted living facility was mentioned on a nationwide television broadcast. I think my favorite testimony that came out of that broadcast was a woman who said, “A year ago my husband was living in the facility and couldn’t have told you what a screwdriver is. Today he’s out working on the car.” That to me just sums it up.

Dr. Sears
Well, it really does. People say, “It can’t be that easy,” but that’s the amazing thing about fish oils; it very well could be that easy. When you hear these stories, you say, “How can you explain it?” That’s what science does. We know that Alzheimer’s is an inflammatory disease, and if we treat inflammation, Alzheimer’s should improve. We know that arthritis is an inflammatory disease, and if we give an anti-inflammatory or fish oil, the arthritis goes away. Why isn’t it possible that Alzheimer’s can go away also? It’s a very, very fascinating approach, and that’s why we do science, especially at Harvard Medical School, to demonstrate to the entire American public that it can be done.

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Turning our attention away from the brain and onto another part of the body, what kind of attention is the American Heart Association giving to people aware of omega-3 for the heart?

Dr. Sears
The American Heart Association is making, at best, at least a stab in that direction. They’re asking people to eat more fish. The people say, “Wait a minute, but the fish are contaminated,” and they say, “That’s right, but don’t eat too much fish.” Their recommendations are at least a movement in the right direction, but they’re afraid to move faster because they say we don’t have enough data. Unfortunately, the data is overwhelming. There was a study where they took some 12,000 patients and put them in different groups, and one group was getting fish oils. Within a period of four years that they followed these patients, they made no other changes to their diet other than taking fish oil, and a very small amount at that. They saw a reduction of mortality equal to that of any study ever done with drugs like the statins. So here we have a very strong case with a low dose of fish oil, and the American Heart Association only recommends one quarter of the dosage. I think that it takes time to move the American Heart Association, but as we gain a greater understanding of the role of these omega-3 fatty acids in heart disease and the immune system, the numbers of people using larger amounts to see even greater effects will move the American Heart Association toward embracing a higher level of these fatty acids. Heart disease is not a disease of cholesterol; it’s a disease of inflammation. Omega-3 fatty acids are the best “drugs” that we have because they really have no side effects other than making you smarter.

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Dr. Sears, are there any closing comments that you would like to make?

Dr. Sears
The one closing comment that I would like to make is that we have the power to alter the future. We have the power to alter our future by changing the levels of hormones in our body and keeping them there using only food. This is a very powerful statement. It allows us to go full circle, back to the beginnings of modern medicine when Hippocrates said, “Let food be your medicine, let medicine be your food.” We now know what he was talking about some 2,300 years ago. If we can use our food to control our hormones, we can now control inflammation. If we control inflammation, we control our future. It ushers in a whole new era of medicine where a doctor is no longer a pill pusher, but the doctor is now an educator, educating that patients eat right to control their hormones, to control inflammation, and, in the process, to control their future. I think it’s an exciting time. We all agree that our health care system today is in chaos, but we have the opportunity – we have the tools – to change that within a matter of weeks.


*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. As with any natural product, individual results will vary.

For more information about Dr. Barry Sears, his incredible fish oil supplements, or the popular Zone Diet, please visit www.zoneliving.com.


If you purchase any Zone Labs, Inc. products, part of the proceeds support CBN ministries.

Dr. Barry Sears is a leader in the field of dietary control of hormonal response. A former research scientist at the Boston University School of Medicine and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Dr. Sears has dedicated his efforts over the past 25 years to the study of lipids and their inflammatory role in the development of chronic disease. He holds 13 U.S. patents in the areas of intravenous drug delivery systems and hormonal regulation for the treatment of cardiovascular disease.

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