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Monday, July 25, 2011


My Saturday blog on whether BMAA (above) from seafood or bodies of water contributes to neurological diseases got more personal mail than from anything I've ever posted.  Several sent testimonials that the fisherman in their family did contract some form of dementia, and now they are worried that they regularly ate the assortment of sea products given to them.  Let me say, though, that about half of those who survive to the age of 85 have neurological disease problems.  So if your fisherman was old, age could have been the primary reason.

Alzheimer's is responsible for 60% of dementia, and those with Parkinson's eventually suffer from this ailment.  Your brain has 100 million brain cells (also called neurons) and 100 trillion connection points, or synapses.  In Alzheimer's, the failure occurs at these linkages.  Many will disagree with me, but I think the worse part about Alzheimer's is that the incurable patient continues to live, for the whole family also suffers.  When my wife Pearl passed away two years ago, her death was a kind of blessing, for if she had survived, her lung conditions were such that she almost surely would have been on a ventilator the rest of her life...which, for her, would have been worse than death.  The afternoon of her passage, I submitted an article to the Huffington Post, which they immediately published, entitled, Gratitude...Not Grief.

The most unexpected trail of discussion from respondents to this topic had to do with coconuts.  Yes, coconuts.  This fatty food that increases your cholesterol count, is bad for your heart and is also associated with obesity in  Polynesia (unfairly, for other factors contribute a lot more to this problem) has been touted as a miracle food by some.  There seems to be something about caprylic acid (found in coconuts) and ketone bodies, derived from this acid, that promote the use of glucose, the brain's chief energy source.  I do worry, though, when ads say coconut oil is an antioxidant, prevents AIDS, heals your gut and has antimicrobial properties.  This might all be true, but it begins to sound like snake oil.

Bob Bidigare sent me a cutting edge article (which he co-authored with a bunch of others, including other University of Hawaii colleagues I know, Paul Bienfang and Ed Laws), dealing with health impacts from marine microbes, and one sentence in particular initially caught my attention, for I previously indicated there was uncertainty about this matter:

For free-living cyanobacteria, Cox et al. [71] found that BMAA was produced by members of all five cyanobacterial morphotypes as well as 95% of the genera and 97% of the strains that were screened.

Later in the paper, though, is this statement:

Since the initial report of the widespread distribution of BMAA in representatives of all five cyanobacteria mor- photypes by Cox et al. [71], there have been a number of conflicting studies published regarding the detection and quantification of BMAA in cyanobacteria (including blue green algae nutritional supplements). 

So, I guess, we remain unsure if ALL cyanobacteria are potentially dangerous.  This article also talks about ciguatera and shellfish poisoning.

It's possible that the problem, if there is one, could be site specific or genus focused.  Perhaps you need serious algal or bacterial blooms to push the magnification threshold up.  There are signs that BMAA per se might not be the culprit, but that BMAA carbamate, which forms when in contact with a bicarbonate, could well be the form that can disrupt the synapses function.  I'm joking here, but wouldn't it be something if it turns out that people who eat seafood live longer, so much so that age catches up with them, and they are statistically overcome by Alzheimer's?  Or maybe not.

I am allergic to shrimp, crab and lobsters, so this subject has long been of special interest to me.  I don't think any cyanobacteria is affecting my condition because only the decaying flesh of these crustaceans affect me.  If I cook a live specimen and eat it, there is no reaction.

All this leads to a good, and true, story.  A little more than a decade ago both my knees began to hurt and I could barely walk up a flight of stairs.  I went to see a specialist, and he indicated that he would like to do some arthroscopy to see what was wrong.  I told him I was scheduled to fly to Southeast Asia the next day, so I would return in a few weeks.  Well, on my final day in Singapore, I picked a lobster out of a tank, but the plate that came looked like a different one.  While at the table, a rash formed on my cheek.  By the time I returned to Hawaii the next day, my body was the worst case medical journal photo of body rash you can imagine.  I thought I was especially clever in sneaking by various immigration and custom officials to get home.  Well, the doctor prescribed steroid pills to take for five days.  The rash went away, and so did my knee pain.  I think they were inflamed, and those pills cured my ailment.  I have not since then had any problems with my knees.  (By the way, that Kona Cold Lobster photo above shows that their lobster comes from the Atlantic, as Pacific lobsters don't have claws.)

Okay, that had nothing to do with seafood and Alzheimer's, but something else is worthy of note.    Apparently, those who have allergies generally have a vigilant immune system, which not only overreacts to pollen and the like, and tends to liberally release certain histamines, but might also protect the body against nascent cancer cells.  Ergo, maybe it's good to have a few tolerable allergies.  Another plus for my body.

A clarification for educational purposes seems useful, as suggested by David Kyle.  People get confused about Cyanobacteria being called blue-green algae.  Cyanobacteria are strange microbes:  while they are bacteria, they also have photosynthetic pigments, which bacteria in general don't, and can fix nitrogen.  Bacteria are smaller than Cyanobacteria, which can actually fossilize, and have been found to be 3.5 billion years old.  At one time, Cyanobacteria were classified with algae.  But not now, even though they're called blue-green algae.

I made a further check of the virtual world and I quote from a Rush University Medical Center (Chicago) report on diet and Alzheimer's:

They also found that people who eat fish at least once a week were 60 percent less likely to develop Alzheimer's disease than those who rarely or never ate fish. The key ingredient, the Rush team believes, is the n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in fish.

Elderly people who consume fish or seafood at least once a week may have a significantly lower risk of developing age-related (senile) dementia or Alzheimer’s disease (AD), according to a study in British Medical Journal(2002;325:932–3). This is the latest study to demonstrate the health benefits of regular fish consumption.

So who is right?  What is what?  As I initially indicated, the matter of BMAA is relatively new with respect to the ocean.  Reassured by these two reports, some of you can now be more comfortable with your normal diet, which might include seafood...for now.

Finally, I noticed there will be a gathering in a couple of weeks:

Cyanobacteria and Human Health: Workshop on Merging Ecology, Epidemiology and Neurologic Disorders Aug. 4-6
Researchers from across the country are coming to Bowdoin August 4-6, 2011, for a conference to discuss the links between ALS and other neurologic disorders to cyanobacteria blooms in fresh and marine waters.
Elijah Stommel will be there, and Paul Allen Cox (left, that reference #71 above) will give the keynote address.  I wonder if I can participate and fly back to Honolulu for my 7PM cruise departure on the 6th?  The cost seems reasonable:

Standard registration for the workshop is $200 and includes the short course and meals. Undergraduate students can attend free of charge; graduate student registration is $100. On-campus housing is available on a limited basis for $30 per night. The registration deadline is Friday, July 29.

I haven't had a room for $30/night in a long time, maybe never.  But Maine is so far away.

The Dow Jones Industrials sunk 88 (0.7%) to 12,593, with world markets also mostly down, especially Shanghai at minus 3%.  I guess the Chinese are worried that America will default.  Yes, gold again hit an all-time high, up $7/toz to $1614, while oil seems steady, the NYMEX at $99/barrel and Brent Spot at $118/barrel.



Provacyl reviews said...

Wow this post is new .. I didn't know that sea foods can be a great factor of having AD. I actually love seafood but I guess I have to put it in moderation. I'm in my 40's and I have read too that as early as 40 you can have AD.

Click Here for Provacyl said...

And for those who are already suffering from Alzheimer's Disease I hope your family will be more understanding and loving. All you need is love and patience it may not sound easy but just stay happy and always remember you have your family with you.


Never heard of Provacyl, but so what. Be careful about easing down on seafood, as the current evidence is sketchy, and, I suspect fatty beef can be worse than certain types of seafood.

Regarding love and understanding, yes, you have the right attitude. Mine is based on frustration with some aspects of life in general, such as criminals who get arrested and convicted dozens of times, and still find a way to commit another crime. Click on:

and you can read my thoughts on the concept of "Three Strikes and You're Dead." The scary thing about this particular simple solution is that so many of my friends actually like it. I'm, myself, ambivalent, if not, antipodean.

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Unknown said...

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