Omega-3 and Omega-6 Essential fatty Acids (EFA)
Omega-3 fatty acids are a form of polyunsaturated fats, one of four basic types of fat that the body derives from food. (Cholesterol, saturated fat, and monounsaturated fat are the others.) All polyunsaturated fats, including the omega-3 fatty acids, are increasingly recognized as important to human health.
Eating too many foods rich in saturated fats has been associated with the development of degenerative diseases, including heart disease and even cancer. Polyunsaturated fatty acids, however, are regarded as healthy. Omega-3 fatty acids (found primarily in cold-water fish) fall into this category, along with omega-6 fatty acids, another type of polyunsaturated fatty acids found in grains, most plant-based oils, poultry, and eggs.
Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are termed essential fatty acids (EFAs) because they are critical for good health. However, the body cannot make them on its own. For this reason, omega-3 fatty acids must be obtained from food, thus making outside sources of these fats “essential.”
Although the body needs both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids to thrive, most people consume far more omega-6 fatty acids than omega 3 fatty acids. Ongoing research is consistently reporting new health benefits for the omega-3 fatty acids. Many experts now recommend consuming a better balance of these two EFAs. An ideal balance is believed to be a (1:1) one-to-one ratio of Omega-6 efa’s to Omega-3 efa’s. With the emphasis of vegetable cooking oils high in Omega-6 oils, most individuals are getting a ratio of about (26:1) rather than (1:1).
Different Types of Essential Fatty Acids
There are several omega-3 fatty acids including alpha linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and others. The human body cannot synthesize omega-3 fatty acids but can convert alpha linolenic acid into the other omega-3 oils. Alpha linolenic acid is therefore a nutrient essential for life and is sometimes called vitamin F. Alpha linolenic acid is found in dark green leafy vegetables, flax seed oil and certain vegetable oils. ALA from flaxseed oil is converted in the body to EPA and then DHA at an efficiency of (5%-10%), and (2%-5%) respectively. Additional sources of ALA with a high omega-3 to omega-6 ratio include chia seed oil, perilla oil, sachia inchi, purslane, lingon berry, sea buckthorn and hemp seed oil. The human body may be able to convert more ALA to EPA and DHA if the ratio of omega-6 oils to omega-3 oils in the diet is near (1:1).
The Omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexanoic acid (DHA) are found primarily in oily cold-water fish such as tuna, salmon, and mackerel. Aside from fresh seaweed, a staple of many cultures, plant foods rarely contain EPA or DHA.
A special form of linoleic acid is Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a naturally-occurring polyunsaturated fatty acid. It is a group of isomers of linoleic acid, meaning that it is chemically identical but has the atoms arranged in a different patern than ordinary linoleic acid. The human body is unable to manufacture Conjugated Linoleic Acid or CLA, so it must be obtained from dietary sources. Foods highest in CLA include dairy products and meat from ruminant animals, such as beef, lamb, and veal. CLA has several health benefits including promotion of lean muscle development, reducing body fat, improving immune response, lowering cholesterol, and others. For the complete article on Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA) Click Here
Health Benefits of Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Scientists made one of the first associations between omega-3 fatty acids and human health while studying the Inuit (Eskimo) people of Greenland in the 1970s. The Inuit consumed a very high fat diet but suffered far less from coronary heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes mellitus and psoriasis than their European counterparts. The fat from thfat diet was derived from whale, seal, and salmon. Researchers eventually reallized that these foods were all rich in omega-3 fatty acids, and the omega-3 fatty acids were providing real disease-countering benefits.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids Improve Heart Health
Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to help keep cholesterol levels low, stabilize irregular heart beat, and reduce blood pressure. Researchers now believe that alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), one of the omega-3 fats, is particularly beneficial for protecting against heart and blood vessel disease, and for lowering cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Omega-3 fatty acids are also natural blood thinners, reducing the “stickiness” of blood cells (called platelet aggregation), which can lead to such complications as blood clots and stroke.
An excellent source of ALA is flaxseed oil. Because it is polyunsaturated oil, ALA does not store well or tolerate the heat from cooking. For this reason some individuals grind their flax seeds to have fresh oil.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids Help Reduce Hypertension
Studies of large groups of people have found that the more omega-3 fatty acids people consume, the lower their overall blood pressure level is. This was the case with the Greenland Eskimos who ate a lot of oily, cold-water fish.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids Improve Autoimmune Diseases
Omega-3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties. Consumption of omega-3 oils improve rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, Raynaud’s disease, and other autoimmune diseases. This is probably because the omega-3 fatty acids help the arteries, as well as many other parts of the body, stay inflammation free. EPA and DHA are successful at this because they can be converted into natural anti-inflammatory substances called prostaglandins and leukotrienes, compounds that help decrease inflammation and pain.
In numerous studies over the years, participants with inflammatory diseases have reported less joint stiffness, swelling, tenderness, and overall fatigue when taking omega-3 oils.
In 1998, an exciting review of well-designed, randomized clinical trials reported that omega-3 fatty acids were more successful than a placebo in improving the condition of people with rheumatoid arthritis. The research also showed that getting more omega-3 fatty acids enabled some participants to reduce their use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
Omega-3 Fatty Acids Improve Depression
The brain is 60% fat and needs omega-3 fats to function properly. Now researchers have discovered a link between mood disorders and the presence of low concentrations of omega-3 fatty acids in the body. Apparently, omega-3 fats help regulate mental health problems because they enhance the ability of brain-cell receptors to comprehend mood-related signals from other neurons in the brain.
Clinical trials are underway to further investigate whether supplementing the diet with omega-3 fats will reduce the severity of such psychiatric problems as mild to moderate depression, dementia, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. The oil used to help the child with a degenerative nerve disorder in the popular film Lorenzo’s Oil was an omega-3 fatty acid.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids Aid Cancer Prevention and Support
Preliminary research from the University of California, Los Angeles, suggests that omega-3 fatty acids may help maintain healthy breast tissue and prevent breast cancer. In a recent study, participants who supplemented their diet with fish oils produced lower quantities of a carcinogen associated with colon cancer than did a placebo group. More research is underway.
The Dangers of Saturated Fats and Trans Fats
Without a sufficient supply of polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids, the body will use saturated fat to construct cell membranes. The resulting cell membranes are less elastic, a situation that makes the heart muscle stiffer and less able to return to a resting state.
Trans fats are of particular concern from a health perspective. Trans fats are fats, usually pollyunsaturated oils, that have been chemically hydrogenated to convert them into saturated fats. They are found in margarine and in “hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated” oils. You see this term on the majority of food labels in the supermarket. Trans fats displace healthy fats and are believed to contribute to high cholesterol, hardening of the arteries and other health problems.
The Unique Nutritional Role of Coconut Oil
Coconut oil is a saturated fat that is different from other dietary saturated fats. The fats in coconut oil have short molecular chains. Recent research has shown that coconut oil does not contribute to higher cholesterol or heart disease. Coconut oil may also reduce weight gain because the shorter fat molecules are more easily metabolized. Most significantly, coconut oil contains about 50% Lauric Acid. Lauric acid has protective properties against many infectious organisms including lipid coated viruses, bacteria, fungi, etc. For the complete article on coconut oil, Click Here
Balancing the Ratio of Omega-3 and Omega-6 Fats
Nutritionists recognize the importance of balancing omega-3 fatty acids with omega-6 fatty acids in the diet. Because most people on a typical Western diet consume far more omega-6-rich foods , the ratio is out of balance for almost everyone. For most Americans the emphasis now needs to be on increasing omega-3 fats and reducing omega-6 fats to make the ratio more even.
Dosage and Recommended Intake of Omega-3 Fatty Acids
There is no established recommended daily intake for omega-3 fats. However, it is clear that a healthy diet containing significant amounts of foods rich in omega-3 fats is necessary for optimum health. Increasing the intake of omega-3 fatty acids will naturally bring the ratio of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids back into a healthier, 2:1 or (optimally) a 1:1 balance.
This is best achieved by reducing the consumption of omega-6-rich foods and simultaneously increasing consumption of omega-3-rich foods. Omega-3 rich foods include Atlantic salmon and other fatty, cold-water fish, including herring, sardines, Atlantic halibut, bluefish, tuna, and Atlantic mackerel. Another good source of Omega-3 fats is wild game, including venison and buffalo. The best sources of alpha linoleic acid, ALA, is flaxseed oil, walnuts, leafy greens, hemp seed oil and purslane.
Omega-6 oils are derived from Safflower, Sunflower, Corn, Soya, Pumpkin seeds, and Wheatgerm. These are the oils that we generally need less of. Remember, however, that some Omega-6 oils are essential for optimum health.
For therapeutic supplementation, 2000 mg. of EPA and 1000 mg. of DHA per day is a common recommendation.
Omega-3 Oils and the Herpes Virus
Nutritional Support with omega-3 oils is important in helping cells resist infection with the herpes family of viruses and other similar organisms. Viruses have to penetrate the cell walls to reach the nucleus in order to reproduce. A healthy cell wall resists penetration while a weak cell wall is vulnerable.
Multiplication of the herpes virus may be associated with the release of arachidonic acid from cell membranes where it is stored as triglycerides. Arachidonic acid can be converted to inflammatory prostaglandins and prostanoids (inflammatory mediators) that cause itching, pain, and irritation. Supplementation with borage oil and fish oil blocks arachidonic acid release and provides an anti-inflammatory effect.
Anti-Viral Properties of Fatty Acids
Research has demonstrated that unsaturated free fatty acids such as oleic, arachidonic or linoleic at concentrations of 5-25 µg/ml inactivate enveloped viruses such as herpes, influenza, Sendai, Sindbis within minutes of contact. At these concentrations the fatty acids are inocuous to animal host cells in vitro. Naked viruses, such as polio, SV40 or EMC are not affected by these acids.
US Patent 4,841,023 applies to the inactivation of viruses in blood plasma. According to the patent claims, unsaturated fatty acids with at least one double bond in the cis configuration and containing 16 to 20 carbon atoms are effective. The list includes 11-eicosenoic acid, arachidonic acid, linoleic acid, linolenic acid, palmitoleic acid, elaidic acid, linolenic acid, gamma-linolenic acid, palmitic acid and arachidic acid.
Research has shown that short-chain and long-chain saturated fatty acids have no or a very small antiviral effect at the highest concentrations tested. Medium-chain saturated and long-chain unsaturated fatty acids, on the other hand, were all highly active against the enveloped viruses. The loss of infectivity was attributed to a disruption of the lipoprotein envelope of these virions, as observed in an electron microscope. Lauric and Capyric acid (from coconut oil) was shown to be the most effective at inactivating viruses.
Cautions and Contraindications for Omega-3 Oils
Omega-3 oils can reduce blood clotting and act as a blood thinner. If you are taking anti-coagulant drugs, have a bleeding disorder or are being treated for a medical condition, you should consult your physician before using Omega-3 supplements. Blood tests that measure clotting time can be used to ensure these nutrients are not reducing the clotting factors in your blood to abnormal levels.
The maximum safe daily dosage recommended by the United States Food And Drug Administration for a 70-kg human is a total of 3 g/day intake of EPA and HDA omega-3 fatty acids from conventional and dietary sources.
Recommendations for Omega-3 Oil Supplements
Increasing ones dietary intake of fish is highly desirable. There are some concerns over the concentration of pollutants like PCB and Mercury in fish. The highest concentrations of contamination has been found in farmed fish and the lowest concentrations in ocean harvested fish. It is therefore advisable to select the ocean harvested fish. Supplements of DHA and EPA are readily available from fish sources. Another source is Krill Oil. Krill is a major food source for cold water fish. By using Krill you go one step down the food chain and reduce pollution levels significantly. The best source of ALA, alpha linoleic acid is flax seeds. The best way to get fresh flax seed oil is to get the seed and a grinder and make it as needed. Hemp seed oil has an optimum balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fats.
The content of mercury in fish oil is not a concern because mercury is stored in the tissue, not in the oil. Many toxins, including PCB, Dioxin, pesticides, etc., however, are stored in the fat and are a serious concern. Because of this, the better suppliers of fish oil subject the oil to molecular distillation to remove these contaminants. This treatment does increase the cost a bit, but is more than worth it. The Ethyl EPA and Nordic Naturals oils displayed in the links below have been purified by molecular distillation.
Where to get Omega-3 Oil Supplements
For a high quality source of Omega-3, Krill Oil and other Health and Life Extension Supplements: