Originally published February 7 2008
The Right Type of Fats for Health and Longevity
by Teya Skae
(NaturalNews) If there is one supplement that we can all benefit from, it would have to be Omega-3 fatty acids. Eskimo people have proven this over the ages with their diet comprising of over 50% of their total calorie intake from fish and fish oil - which is high in Omega-3 fatty acids, as well as vitamin A. The interesting thing about the Eskimo people is that they enjoy good health with no cardiovascular diseases or cholesterol concerns.
Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids are known as 'essential fatty acids' (EFA) because they cannot be synthesized by the human body and, hence, we need to acquire them from dietary sources or good quality supplements. There is a lot of promotional hype and dietary advice by many leading health sources and health authorities suggesting we increase these fatty acids in our diet. One of the most reliable and well researched of these sources includes cardiologist, Dr. Ross Walker (http://www.drrosswalker.com) . However, there are some very important facts that we need to understand in relation to consuming these oils for optimal benefit, as opposed to just ingesting some capsules that may be completely useless in contributing to our wellness.
Let's have a closer look at Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids:
There are three types of Omega-3's: eicosapentanoic acid (EPA), docosahexanoic acid (DHA) and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). The EPA and DHA are found in oily fish sources such as sardines, anchovies, salmon and mackerel, while ALA is found in plant sources such as flax, canola and walnuts.
Omega-6, Linoleic Acid (LA), is found in corn, soy, canola, safflower and sunflower oil and these oils are overabundant in the typical diet. Our current consumption of Omega-6 fatty acid has doubled from what it was in the 1940's. In order to benefit from EFA's we need to ingest them in their healthy ratio, which is 1:1 (Omega-3 to Omega-6). Our ancestors evolved over millennia on this ratio. Today, though, our ratio of Omega-3 to Omega-6 averages from 1:20 to 1:50. This is very unhealthy, as excess intake of Omega-6 can cause increased water retention, raised blood pressure and excess free radical damage (premature ageing of cells/tissues). It is estimated that 85% or more of people in the Western world are deficient in Omega-3 fatty acids and most get far too much of the Omega-6 fatty acids. Vegetarian diets, for example, tend to be very high in Omega-6.
The human brain contains more than 60% structural fat. DHA fatty acids are found in our human brain and are very important, not only for cognitive functions but also for the maintenance of cell membranes, all of which supports the need to include these fatty acids in our daily diet.
EPA and DHA (unlike ALA) are the best sources of Omega-3 because they are more direct, while the ALA from flax, walnuts or canola oil first needs to be converted to EPA/DHA. Our bodies are not very good at doing that, hence, ALA is of little nutritional use. Sophisticated marketing companies often take one tenth of the relevant facts and build a whole marketing campaign around it; such is the case with canola oil.
Debra Palmer Keenan, a nutrition professor at Rutgers University, upon her examination of the nutritional data surrounding the three types of Omega-3 fatty acids, concluded that one of the most important things we can do is to increase our intake of the Omega-3 fats found in fish oil - and reduce our intake of Omega-6 fats found in vegetable oils and nuts.
DHA and EPA are pivotal in preventing heart disease, cancer, and many other diseases. The human brain is also highly dependent on DHA; low DHA levels have been linked to depression, schizophrenia, memory loss and impaired cognitive functions. Researchers are now also linking inadequate intake of these Omega-3 fats in pregnant women to premature birth and low birth weight, and to hyperactivity in children (http://www.NaturalNews.com/011245.html) .
Omega-3's are also found in human breast milk and have been shown to be important in brain and eye development, according to Jay Whelan, a professor of nutrition and an Omega-3 researcher at the University of Tennessee.
Other parts of our bodies also need Omega-3 fatty acids. Symptoms of fatty acid deficiency include a variety of skin problems, such as eczema, thick patches of skin, and cracked heels.
Ph.D. psychology student Natalie Sinn, of the University of South Australia and CSIRO Nutrition, studied 145 children with ADHD, aged 7 to 12. Over 15 weeks, these children were administered a daily dose of 'good quality' fish oil, which was found to have a calming effect on them. The study concluded that these tested children were able to concentrate better; they were calmer and less impulsive. The Adelaide-based researcher urged general practitioners, psychologists and psychiatrists to take the research on board as evidence regarding the benefits of fish oil. Ms Sinn said the fish oil in her study had higher ratios of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) to docosahexaenoic acid (DPA). This is a very important factor in defining "good quality" fish oil.
Currently, there are no safe fish sources in the world that would ensure our daily supply of Omega-3 fats. Tuna and swordfish, two sources that are high in Omega-3's, are also very high in mercury. Most salmon is farmed domestically and only Wild Alaskan salmon is safe. For the Australian market, that is not an easy source to acquire, unless it comes in a can. Unfortunately, eating highly acidic proteins, like salmon, in cans is toxic to the system and can contribute to gout. So what is the answer?
High quality fish oils supplements.
As consumers, we need to do a bit of research ourselves because the reality is that not all supplement suppliers ensure that their fish sources are mercury-free, nor do they practice high standards of quality control in their production and packaging of the fish oil. One brand of fish oil that is considered safe is MaxEPA. Why? Because the fish oil is sourced from sardines and anchovies, as opposed to tuna or salmon.
The processing and packaging of the fish oil are crucial in determining its quality. Low quality oils may be quite unstable and contain significant amounts of mercury, pesticides, and undesirable oxidation products.
High quality oils are stabilized with adequate amounts of vitamin E and are packaged in dark containers, impervious to light and oxygen. Some very recent research carried out at the University of Minnesota found that emulsified fish oils are much better absorbed than the pure fish oils in gelatin capsules. Also, when taking any fish oil supplement, it is imperative to include some natural vitamin E with it in order to prevent oxidization (a process whereby fats become rancid in the cells/tissues of our body). This is because all oils oxidize (except pure organic coconut oil) and create free-radical damage (cell-destructive processes) in the body.
Looking at the whole Omega-3 debate from the bigger picture, we must ask what we can expect from supplementing, even with the best quality Omega-3 products. As a clinical kinesiologist, I balance and work with children with learning difficulties and behavioural problems, adults suffering from depression, and many people with multiple symptoms that theoretically should respond to an increase in Omega-3 supplementation. Even though some people already take fish oil supplements they might not notice significant benefits immediately. I believe this is connected with the ratios of Omega-3 to Omega-6, which is absolutely crucial to achieving any benefit from taking these essential fatty acids.
The best ratio is 1:1 and, realistically, that would entail consuming very few nuts (as nuts are vegetable oils), soy products or vegetable oils. Cooking with and consuming coconut oil would help in achieving this significant ratio. People need to realise that taking a fish oil supplement for some weeks is not enough; they probably need to take it continuously for many months. While some people may find improvements within 3 weeks, others may not notice a significant difference for 3 – 6 months.
Essentially, it is better to take fish oil supplements than to consume mercury-polluted fish (like tuna, swordfish and salmon) to obtain our daily requirement of Omega-3's. Relying on flaxseed or (worse) canola oil to meet our daily needs of Omega-3's will not do the job and finally, avoiding all vegetable oils in cooking (which causes oxidization) and keeping nuts/nut butters to a minimum would ensure a healthy ratio of Omega-3 to Omega-6 which overall should support our brains and bodies in coping with the stresses of daily living.
Hibbeln JR. Fish consumption and major depression. Lancet 1998; 351: 1213.
Bourre JM, Dumont O, Piciotti M, Clement M, et al. Essentiality of n-3 fatty acids for brain structure and function. World Rev Nutr Diet 1991; 66: 103-17
Holub BJ. Clinical Nutrition: 4. Omega-3 fatty acids in cardiovascular care. CMAJ 2002; 166: 608-15.
Logan AC. Neurobehavioral aspects of Omega-3 fatty acids: possible mechanisms and therapeutic value in major depression. Altern Med Rev 2003;8:410-425
About the authorTeya Skae M.A. ATMS
Corporate Wellness Presenter/Researcher and Author
As the founder of Empowered Living Teya has developed a results based I.D.E.A.L Solutions for increasing your energy, focus and personal Success!
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