Episode 8 with Rachel Gow
Rachel Gow explains how her quest for answers to help her child’s learning and behavior differences inspired her career in neuroscience and nutrition. Dr. Gow shares her experiences, early failures and learnings, and the moment her son told her he felt ‘happy’. Her new book “Smart Foods for ADHD and Brain Health” includes her journey, the science behind brain health, practical tips, resources, and recipes for busy parents.
- Early career and son’s ADHD diagnosis (2:56)
- Interest in Omega-3 (7:43)
- Dr. Gow’s book Smart Foods for ADHD and Brain Health (13:12)
- Clearing up confusion around omega-3s (15:32)
- Background diet and ‘brain selective nutrients’ (23:01)
Resources Mentioned in this Episode
Any statements on this podcast are the opinion of the scientific guest and/or author and have not been evaluated by the FDA. The information we may provide to you is designed for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for informed medical advice or care. This information should not be used to diagnose, treat, or prevent any health issues or conditions without consulting a health care professional. If you are experiencing a health issue or condition, we suggest you consult with your health care professional.
I now know as a neuroscientist; it takes six weeks to physiologically alter the red blood cell composition of omega three fats in our red blood cells.
Hello, and welcome to the science and the story behind omega three, a podcast brought to you by Wylie companies, where we explore one of the most researched nutrients on the planet. Listen in as global omega three experts and researchers translate the science, reveal personal insights, and share their stories of discovery while navigating the sea of omega three science.
Thanks for joining us today. Now, here’s your host, Greg Lindsey.
Welcome back to another episode of the science and the story behind omega three, where we talk with experts from all over the world. Our guest today is a child neuro psychologist and registered nutritionist who specializes in attention deficit disorders. Her work integrates the science of food and nutrition with child neuro development, learning and behavior. She is the founder of the charitable trust nutritious minds. And she has published a new book, which we will hear more about today. We welcome to the program, Dr. Rachel Gow. Welcome, Dr. Gow. And thank you so much for joining us. We’re absolutely thrilled to have you with us today. You’re a mom, a research scientist, and now a book author. We have so much to cover today. But I’d really like to start at the beginning and ask you how did you get interested in omega threes? Firstly, let me just say it’s a great pleasure to be with you today. And I’ve worked alongside Wiley’s finest, in various capacities over the years. So it’s a real pleasure. Thank you. Um, in terms of how it all began, would you like the long or the short version? I think our listeners would prefer the long version, please. Okay, sure. So my life started out in the world of property, as you call it in the states real estate. So I was a young first time working mom in the northwest of London, a place called St. John’s wort. And I had a really exciting career because every day was different. I was, you know, I wasn’t stuck in my chair and an office, I was in and out of the office all the time, very busy days meeting lots of really interesting, fabulous people. And selling real estate is quite a lucrative career, I was able to send my young son to a small private school around the corner from my work. And yeah, I had lots of fun. However, he he was about five, six years of age. And after a short period of time of him starting that school, I received some complaints from the teachers about low level disruptive behavior. And these kind of low level complaints about disruption led to me seeking out help from Firstly, if I my memory serves me correctly, it was an educational psychologist who came to interview myself and my son also spent some time observing him in the classroom. And she suspected something called attention deficit disorder, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, which is also known as ADHD. And she also suspected that he had dyslexia. So this then led to further investigations, I always say that parents to have a child with any type of learning or behavior difference, any type of special educational need become better investigators than the FBI. We seek out every professional that we can. And in my case, it was, as I said, educational psychologists, clinical psychologists, Child and Adolescent psychiatrist, and that resulted in a diagnosis of both ADHD mild dyslexia. Now that really turned our worlds kind of upside down. As I said, I was working real estate I had no or very little knowledge of these neuro developmental differences. And I realized that I needed to learn and fast basically. So that’s where we’re at.
After he received these diagnostic labels, he was prescribed a stimulant psychosis stimulant medication, also known as methylphenidate. brandnames, Ritalin, and we kind of had to wean him on and experiment with dose to see what worked and what didn’t, and it’s not well known, but there’s a proportion of children
In the record non responders, so they either don’t respond to the stimulant medication or the side effects are kind of so severe that parents have to withdraw. And in our case, it was a bit of both. He responded in some ways in terms that he was much better able to focus and pay attention. But then he wasn’t really eating and he wasn’t sleeping. And his emotions were kind of shot to pieces, he was like all over the place. So we knew that, you know, this wasn’t really going to work in the long term. And I started to seek out alternatives. But alongside that, I decided to give up my career in real estate. And I enrolled in university as a mature student, because I was in my late 20s. And I basically decided to study psychology. So I did a Bachelor of Science in psychology. And that led me to a Master of Science, also in psychology, which then led to a PhD in the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, at the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London. So yeah, so I spent four years studying and I specifically was interested in looking at patterns of activity in the brain. So I recruited a cohort of children with and without ADHD. So I would using eg, we would have scalp recorded electrical activity, we would record the electrical activity of their brain whilst they were doing tasks that captured sustained attention, and also emotion processing, and also the ability or inability to suppress a response which is also referred to as cognitive conflict inhibition. So these are the kind of the Hallmark symptoms of ADHD is inattentiveness, emotional dysregulation, which just means the inability to regulate their emotions. Often children with ADHD can be prone to unprovoked emotional outbursts. And I was also interested in the impulsive side as well. Not only was I interested in brain activity, but I was also really interested in how that correlated to their Amiga three highly unsaturated fatty acid levels. So that was my PhD.
It’s fascinating to hear. So can you take us back to how you got interested in omega threes?
So how did I become interested in omega three? Well, actually, it first started when I was doing my masters at a university University College London back back, and a friend of mine worked at a nutraceutical in London, and she had heard that my son had recently been diagnosed with ADHD. So she really educated me somewhat in terms of the role that omega threes play in both the structure and the function of the brain. And not only that, she sent me some samples. She sent me a couple of boxes of fish oils. And the fish oils contained ecosa pentane, our Cassatt, which is known as EPA, and also docosahexaenoic acid, which is known as da che. And we know that these two key highly unsaturated fatty acids are critical for brain function in terms of neuro transmission, which is simply just the ability of the brain to send signals across the brain’s network, also known as cell signaling. I’m sure we’ll come on to that a bit more as the interview progresses, but also, they’re critical in terms of regulating both the serotonergic and the dopaminergic systems of the brain. Now, serotonin, as most of you may have heard of, is the neurotransmitter or chemical that governs and enables us to have feelings of well being and happiness, whereas dopamine is the chemical that enables us to feel pleasure, reward motivation, and I’m sure we’ll come on to those in more depth later on. So anyway, so she sent me these special capsules. As I said, at the time, I didn’t really know too much about them. We started taking them, we follow the instructions at the back of the box. And six weeks later, she followed up and she’s like, Hey, you know, how’s it going? Have you observed any noticeable differences? And I was like, actually, I happen, disappointingly. And she said, Okay, that’s not unusual. She said, there’s a body of research that’s come out of State’s showing that children with ADHD have what’s called nutritional insufficiencies. So, she said the dose is really good.
Critical, and not only the dose, but the duration of dose. Because I now know as a neuroscientist, it takes six weeks to physiologically alter the red blood cell composition of omega three fats in our red blood cells. But not only that, I’ve also learned through my research and training, I’m also a registered nutritionist under the category of science. And I know that omega six and omega three compete for absorption and synthesis into our red blood cells. So hence, the background diet is critical. And she was like, what’s his background diet, like? And I said, Well, actually, you know, it’s not the best. As I’ve mentioned, I was a busy working mom, often we would have, you know, meals out or meals on the go, because, you know, we’d get home quite late at night, and I didn’t always prepare meals from scratch back then. So this was something that I realized that I had to quickly address, you know, I had to address his background diet. And I wanted to get him nutritionally evaluated to see if he was intolerant or allergic to any, you know, specific foods. And after discussing all of this with my friend, I decided to one get helped to change his diet and learn as much as I could about the types of foods he should be eating. And also cut out a lot of the junk, get back in the kitchen, you know, get back to making meals from scratch, which we did. So we completely change his diet, we cut out sugar. And years later, I obviously found out more about the gut brain access, which I’m sure we’ll come to and how important that is, in terms of the absorption of nutrients. And then after about 10 weeks, I increased the dose. So he was on the dose that was on the box. And after researching this research, you know, findings that have come out of us about insufficiencies and deficits in omega three in these cohorts in these children and young adults, I decided to increase the dose. And after about 10 weeks, you know, he turned around and he, he said Mommy, I feel happy. And that was just absolutely incredible. And that clearly was now you know, putting my neuroscientific hat on now, I realized that that was likely to be the better regulation of both dopamine and serotonin. And also notice that his hyperactivity diminished, that he was a lot calmer, and better able to concentrate. Now, of course, this was just a case study, this was just me as a mom, you know, experimenting, you know, with my son in trying to find ways to help him and to help him better manage your symptoms, because it was affecting his schooling. So then I had to put this all into practice in terms of a research setting. And that’s what I did, I decided to devote my studies to the fields of what’s called nutritional neuroscience. Well, Dr. Gow, thank you, I want to take a moment to jump into your book. So first of all, What’s the title? And then secondly, why did you write it? And what do you hope to accomplish from it? Yeah, so the title is smart foods to ADHD, and brain health. And it really is the sum of the acquisition of 14 years worth of study, research, training, clinical practice, of course, my son was the inspiration and driving force behind all that I have done. And I’m so happy that I did take that path, because it’s changed our lives. And not only that, it’s also enabled me to help other parents in their journeys, because all of our journeys are unique. And I just found that a lot of information wasn’t readily available to me as a mom. So essentially, what I learned was, you know, what we eat really does affect not only our mood, our ability to learn, our concentration, our memory, you know, at both cellular and molecular levels, and a lot of people you know, don’t take the role of food the brain as seriously as I would like, and I know others might feel like because often time when you talk about nutrition, it’s addressed from the neck down, you know, in terms of, you know, you’ve got to eat to prevent type two diabetes or obesity or to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease or stroke and the every day fundamental effects of nutrition to our, you know, newer transmission, which of course governs our new behavior ports feedings on an everyday basis, doesn’t get the attention it deserves.
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So let’s talk specifically about omega threes. There’s a lot of confusion around omega threes right now and I’d love to I’ve asked other guests this question. I’d love to help clear that up for our listeners. So I’d love for you to maybe dig into that a little bit around some of the confusion. So well, the word fat normally has a negative connotation, because quite frankly, we’ve got it wrong, we’ve got the facts for a long time. And now we know that there are specific types of fats that are critical for our brain. So I’ll tell you a little bit about that. But let’s go right back to basics. So the brain is the fattest organ in our body, around 65% of the dry way to the adult, brain and retina, are made up of these complex specialized and unique fats called lipids. And around 25% of all new own or membranes are made up of a highly unsaturated fat called docosahexaenoic acid, or da che. And what they do, I’ll try and break it down into a translational sense. So we have around is estimated we have around 100 billion neurons in our brain. And each of these new ones is coated in a myelin sheath, which acts as an insulator to speed up cell signaling across our brains networks. Now that myelin sheath is made up of tha. So essentially, research has been done by Professor john Stein at the University of Oxford, that has shown that D ha, basically makes the faster and more efficient communication. So if you think about that, in a translational sense, you know, you think about a child that has adequate DHA versus a child who has suboptimal or, you know, nutritional insufficiencies of the HA and the teachers asked me a question, and the child with adequate DHA has already put his or her hand up, has completely computed fully understood the question, and, you know, ready to deliver the answer versus the child with inadequate VHA, which is who’s still trying to figure out exactly what the question is. So that can be a translational example, hypothetically, in terms of differences in terms of the speed of neuro transmission. And we also know through the work of a lady called he on Kim at the National Institutes of Health, that if you deprive cell cultured hippocampal neurons, that results in something called New like outgrowth, it just means that the dendrites on the new on don’t form as they should, which again, slows down that communication process across the brains. But she’s also shown that if you put dh aid back into this into these hippocampal neurons, it restores new light outgrowth. So yeah, we know that depleted omega three has all sorts of implications across the brain, including lower dopamine in the nucleus accumbens and frontal cortex. And so DHS is critical for brain function in in a variety of ways. In fact, Amiga three performs, you know, significant biological processes throughout the central nervous system is also important for vision, visual acuity, you know, the retina is made out of the HA, so essentially, yeah, it’s really important that children are getting the right amount of omega threes. And it’s difficult because a lot of children don’t want to eat deficiency food. And, you know, this can lead to, you know, sub optimal amounts of omega three. And because omega three, you know, it cannot be made by the body nor stored for very long periods of time. It’s only obtainable by the diet. So let’s break down omega threes a little bit more. There are different types of fats. As I’ve discussed, you know, there are the polyunsaturated fatty acids. Alpha linoleic acid is head of the omega three family and it’s a short chain, plant base polyunsaturated fatty acid, often available from chia seeds, flax, nuts, seeds, green leafy vegetables,
but it’s the two key highly unsaturated fatty acids EPA and D ha which are required for brain function, and these are not easily converted from LA to EPA and D Ha. Hence a direct source from oily fish and seafood is critical and if not from supplements, and we
Know that in the UK at least, a lot of school children have inadequate amounts of omega three, for example, a lady called Dr. Alex Richardson University of Oxford carried out a study called the dough lab study. And she measured what’s called the mean, you know, just meaning average, basically the average school in UK score children. And to do this, you can get an Amiga three finger prick test. And the Amiga three finger prick test has a scale, which is zero to four is suboptimal four to eight is intermediate, that everyone should be eight to 12. And that’s the optimal. And she found a mean of just 2.4 in UK school children, which is pretty alarming. So we spoken about omega threes. Now let’s talk a little bit about omega six. So the head of the Omega six family is linoleic acid. And that is the biochemical precursor to arachidonic acid. Now, linoleic acid is predominantly sourced from soybean oil,
certain kind of vegetable oils, and also from, you know, dairy and meat and other sources. And so basically, linoleic acid is abundant also in a lot of junk and processed foods. So if you pick up, you know, go into the supermarket and pick up any commercially available processed food, and you look at the label, it will say soybean oil, the problem is, with consuming too much soybean oil, which most of us do, it’s estimated that the average person is consuming around 12 to 17 grams a day, it can switch on these inflammatory markers called pasta, noids, and leukotrienes, which can place our brain in a state of inflammation. Now, there’s a general consensus among researchers working in the field of nutritional psychiatry, and nutritional neuroscience, that underlying much of psychiatric ill health is inflammation in the brain. So it’s really important to lower your intake of omega sixes and increase your intake of omega threes. It’s the balance that is key. But as I said, too much omega six can switch on these inflammatory markers. And the last thing we want is inflammation in the body and brains, it’s really critical to lower your intake of omega six via soybean oil and increase your omega threes by a healthy, you know, healthy fats such as kind of avocado.
You know, olive oil, lots of seafood, wild less than salmon,
or official supplements if you’re not a fish and seafood lover. The other thing I realized sort of going back to an earlier comment about when I first tried to fish off my son and it didn’t work, and then I corrected the dose and increase the dose and then notice the difference. And that’s really important, because if you remember I said I hadn’t changed his background diet, and omega three and six compete for absorption. So giving him a little one gram fish oil pill didn’t make a difference, because he was eating way too much omega six. And obviously it was a mega six that was being absorbed and not the omega three. So that’s another important point to make for parents as well. Can you give busy working parents some tips on food for their children? And I guess then my second question would be, is it more advantageous to get your daily intake of omega threes from food from supplements from both? I’d love your opinion around that. Yeah, I mean, critically, you know, there are lots of what I refer to as brain selective nutrients. So when we eat a piece of fish, for example, we don’t just get the omega threes, we get the iron, the ideen, the selenium, magnesium, the zinc, and all of these works synergistically to facilitate the absorption of omega threes. But as we’ve mentioned earlier, a lot of children don’t like the smell the texture or taste of fish. So rather than they go without altogether, in that case, I do recommend supplementing, for sure. Because as we said omega three is critical for both the structure and function of the brain. And there’s been so many, you know, randomized placebo controlled clinical trials showing clinical efficacy. It’s a small to modest effect size, but nonetheless, the omega threes have been successful in RCTs in reducing symptoms of ADHD and improving literacy and improving behavior.
This kind of goes on. So you know, my message to parents is really try and reduce sugar, at least white refined sugar, you know, if you have to use a bit of honey on porridge oats, fine, you know, use it in moderation, that get rid of that white refined sugar. And also avoid processed foods as much as possible because of the risks of increasing those inflammatory markers in the brain. And try to give your child like a protein and omega three rich breakfast if you can, as opposed to like cereal, you know, which has, I don’t know, up to 14 ingredients, you know, and oftentimes elevated amounts of sugar and salt. And what that does is it gives that dopamine high. And of course, by the time they’re in the class, and then they’re going to get that crushing low, because their blood sugar level to go up and down. And what that does is it creates fluctuations simultaneously in their cognition and mood. So you’re kind of setting them up to have, you know, a less than productive morning at school, and this can impair their ability to access the curriculum and learning. So yeah, always set them up. They’re trying to scrambled eggs get some sourdough, maybe some avocado, macro, you know, an omelet? Yeah, those types of foods instead of just a bowl of cereal.
So before we wrap up today, would you be so kind to tell our listeners where they can find your book? Absolutely, if you’re interested in finding out a little bit more about my personal journey, and also about the contents of my book. And just to touch on some of the subjects. It’s not just aimed at parents, with children who have ADHD, but any parent who is essentially interested in the role of nutrition in the brain. And so you can head on over to Amazon. It’s available on the amazon.com, as well as the amazon.co.uk. And it’s also available directly from Jessica Kinsey publisher, and all major bookstores. But if you’re a mom, or perhaps you’re a student studying neuroscience, or nutrition, or psychology,
or young person with any type of kind of mental health or brain health condition, I would recommend you head on over to nutritious underscore minds, which is my Instagram. And also I have two websites, drrachelvgow.com, and nutritiousminds.org. Please do get in touch via my social media or websites. I’d love to hear back from you. I’d love to keep in contact and hear your thoughts. If you have any questions, I’d be happy to answer them to. Dr. Gow, thank you so much again for being with us today. What an interesting program and I as a parent just found it extremely fascinating. And listeners. Thank you again for joining us today. As always be healthy, be well and fight the good fight.
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Any statements on this podcast or the opinion of the scientific guest and or author and have not yet been evaluated by the FDA? The information we may provide to you is designed for educational purposes only is not intended to be a substitute for informed medical advice or care. This information should not be used to diagnose, treat or prevent any health issues or conditions without consulting a health care professional. If you are experiencing a health issue or condition we suggest you consult with your healthcare professional