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Omega 3 fats
In the rush to cut calories, reduce cholesterol intake,
and avoid saturated fats, many Americans have embraced low-fat diets and
low-fat foods. But some fats are necessary and "essential" for
health. These fats show great promise for fighting the
There are two varieties of "essential" fatty acids. They are called essential because, like vitamins, the body needs them and cannot make them. Thus, we need to be sure we get enough from our diets or from supplementation.
Omega-6 fatty acids are found in many vegetable oils. With the dietary switch from cholesterol-laden animal fats to vegetable oils, Americans now get plenty of omega-6 fatty acids in their diet.
Omega-3 fatty acids are found predominantly in cold-water fish and a few vegetable oils (flaxseed, walnut and canola). Other food sources of omega-3s include whole grains, legumes, nuts, and green leafy vegetables.
Why are Omega-3 fats so vital to health?
While fats in general have multiple uses in the body, their most significant
roles involve the brain, cell membranes, and a host of hormone-like substances
that act like thermostats in the body: either raising or lowering a variety
The brain is made of fat, especially the omega-3 fatty acid DHA, so obtaining sufficient omega-3 is crucial for cognitive functioning and mood.
All the cell membranes in the body are made of cholesterol and fat. Part of the membrane must be sturdy so the cell can maintain its shape. For this purpose, the body uses cholesterol and saturated fatty acids that are straight and can be stacked tightly together.
The rest of the membrane must be flexible and porous, so that nutrients can enter the cell and waste products can leave. To accomplish this, the body uses unsaturated fats because they are bent.
Why trans-fats are bad for health
Trans-fats are destructive to health because the body misreads them.
Trans-fats have the same chemical signature as omega-3s and omega-6s,
so the body uses them for the same purposes. But they are structurally
straight rather than bent, so the part of the cell membrane that needs
to be porous becomes tight and rigid
Page 1 of 5 http://www.supplementquality.com/news/omega3.html Consumption of trans-fats also raises the risk of heart disease by increasing LDL and lowering HDL cholesterol. (A useful mnemonic: the levels one wants to see on test results match the letters: low LDL and high HDL.)
Role of Omega-3 fats in metabolic processes
In addition to their value for cell membranes, omega-3 fatty acids play an important role in regulating the body's metabolic processes. Eicosanoids are hormone-like compounds that act like thermostats throughout the body, either raising or lowering a wide range of bodily activities.
Eicosanoids have only been discovered recently because their action is localized rather than originating from a specific gland, such as the pancreas or adrenals. Eicosanoids are composed entirely of omega-3 and -6 fatty acids.
Eicosanoids typically come in pairs: one to increase and the other to decrease whatever bodily function the pair is regulating. When omega-3s are lacking in the diet, the body produces less of one of the pairs, with the result that these internal thermostats don't work correctly. The body spirals uncontrollably in a single direction.
Many of today's chronic diseases are related to the impact of an imbalance in the omega-6 and omega-3-based eicosanoids. Having higher levels of omega-6s tends to increase the risk of many inflammatory and auto-immune diseases—such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, psoriasis, ulcerative colitis, osteoporosis, gum disease, asthma, and Alzheimer's disease—or make these problems harder to treat.
Health benefits of Omega-3 fats
Omega-3 fatty acids are vital for our health in a variety of ways.
Reduce risk of heart disease
—Omega-6 based thromboxane aids in clotting, which stops blood loss from injuries. Omega-3s keep thromboxane in check, thus preventing unwanted blood clots that can cause strokes, heart attacks, deep-vein thrombosis and embolisms in lungs.
Reduce risk of unwanted blood clots
—Thromboxane also constricts arteries, leading to raised blood pressure. Omega-3s again keep thromboxane in check.
Lower blood pressure
—Omega-3s are natural anti-inflammatory agents, so they act to
prevent or reduce symptoms of arthritis, migraine headaches, menstrual
cramps, and asthma.
—Omega-3 fats are an important constituent of the brain, especially EPA. In cultures that eat a lot of fish, the rate of depression is lower than in populations that don't, such as the US. Even though depression has many causes, making sure the brain has enough nutrients to function well is an obvious "no brainer."
Brain and mood
—Omega-3 Fats reduce the risk of cancer. They strengthen the immune system, which is the body's primary defense against the appearance of new cancerous cells. Omega-3 fats also make it harder for a tumor to metastasize to other areas of the body.
—Bones are living tissue, constantly being broken down and rebuilt.
Eicosanoids help to regulate the balance
Reduce risk of osteoporosis
Other health conditions that can be aided by a healthy intake of omega-3s are dry skin (one of the first signs of an omega-3 deficiency), allergies, menopause symptoms, vulnerability to glaucoma and macular degeneration, chronic inflammatory bowel diseases, and ADHD.
How much Omega-3s do we need?
Nutrition experts disagree both on how much we need, and the optimal ratio between omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. Some recommend consuming equal quantities (a 1:1 ratio), while others recommend no more than 10 omega-6s to each omega-3. The diet of our Paleolithic ancestors probably ranged from equal quantities to a 5:1 ratio between omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. In Japan, the traditional soy-and-seafood-based diet shows a ratio of 2.8 to 1.
However, the current American diet contains roughly ten to twenty times
as much omega-6 as
The Council for Responsible Nutrition, a supplement industry trade organization,
points out that the American Heart Association recommends consuming two
fish dinners a week—which is roughly 3 to 4 times more than the
Food and Nutrition Board has characterized as "adequate". The
World Health Organization and various
Getting more Omega-3 fats
Adding more omega-3 fatty acids to one's diet is easy to do—if
one likes fish. While salmon is the best source at 1700 mg per 3-ounce
serving, even cod supplies 100 mg. However, some people dislike fish or
are allergic, and others should either avoid fish or limit their consumption
because of the danger of ingesting mercury—
Flaxseed is the best source of omega-3s in the vegetable kingdom. One rounded tablespoon of milled flaxseed (or one teaspoon of flaxseed oil) supplies 2000 mg of the omega-3 alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), the essential fatty acid that humans cannot make. Flaxseed also contains valuable cancer-fighting lignans (although the oil does not).
Other food sources of omega-3 fatty acids include walnuts, Brazil nuts, butternuts, chia seeds, hickory nuts, macadamia nuts, roasted or cooked soybeans, soybean sprouts, beans of various types, peanuts, olives, spirulina, spinach, purslane, oat germ, wheat germ, lamb, pork, Roquefort and cheddar cheese. Of these, purslane and walnuts are the best sources.
Nutritionist Paul Thomas recommends, "When supplementing with EPA
and DHA, choose fish-oil products concentrated in these omega-3 fatty
acids. Strict vegetarians will need to buy an algae-derived DHA supplement.
At moderate levels of supplementation, EPA and DHA appear to be free of
side effects, though they
Fish-oil supplements and flaxseed oil are both very vulnerable to becoming rancid, and should be kept in the refrigerator. Flaxseed oil should have a "mellow" nutty taste. When it is rancid, it tastes bitter.
Many factors are blamed for today's epidemic of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Until recently, medical professionals paid little or no attention to omega-3 fats —yet their consumption by Inuit peoples has protected them from the usual effects of high-fat diets, and many Americans consume less than the rather minimal "adequate intake" level recommended by the national Food and Nutrition Board.
The growing incidence of obesity has led Americans to focus on cutting
as much fat as possible from their diets—including the heart-healthy
omega-3s. At the same time, the shift to vegetable oils has created a
huge deficit of the omega-3 eicosanoids that function as thermostats to
stop inflammatory processes in the
Can these epidemics of obesity, heart disease, diabetes and cancer be
reversed by restoring omega-3 fatty acids to our diets in healthy quantities?
Where diet is concerned, there is no such thing as a single "magic
bullet" to banish disease (aside from specific deficiency diseases
such as rickets and scurvy). But where
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