The Omega Oils
The omega-6 and omega-3 essential fatty acids (EFAs) are made from just two poly-unsaturated fats: linoleic acid (LA, used to make all the omega-6 series) and alpha linolenic acid (ALA, which makes all the omega-3 series). Our bodies cannot make either one of these building blocks, and for this reason, both LA and ALA are considered to be essential fats that must be obtained from our diet.
Together, they contribute to balancing a vastly complex area of human nutrition, especially in relation to inflammation. From the moment of conception, EFAs play major regulatory roles for thousands of cellular functions and are vital to life. This is especially true for omega-3 because of its critical role in human growth and development, normal brain function, healthy vision, and balancing the immune system. It is also equally important in reducing the risk of inflammatory-linked disorders such as coronary heart disease, cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, arthritis, irritable bowel disorder, colitis, allergies, and auto-immune disorders (Prescott & Calder, 2004).
Studies have concluded that it is the relative balance between the EFAs that is most important. Most scientists now agree that over 10,000 years ago, our early ancestors consumed a diet that supplied an EFA ratio of close to 1:1 between omega-6 and omega-3. In other words, the diet was evenly balanced between the two EFAs. With the beginning of the agricultural era about 10,000 years ago, this ratio began to rise slowly to near 3:1 or 4:1. This is in stark contrast to the average modern diet, which has an omega-6 to omega-3 ratio often approximately 20:1! This is a highly pro inflammatory ratio, especially in those also consuming saturated animal fats from dairy, pork, and beef. There is a critical deficiency of the essential omega-3 fatty acid in the modern diet, which has been linked to chronic inflammation-related diseases (Prescott & Calder, 2004).
Everyone benefits from taking additional, high quality omega-3 oil supplements, to reduce the high omega-6 to omega-3 ratio resulting from modern diets. Examples of the primary groups of people and the specific conditions for which it is absolutely essential are given below:
✔ Pregnant women, as the fetus and infants need omegas for brain and eye development; this is usually taken as pure quality fish oils given to the mother to ensure DHA consumption (Francois et al., 2003)
✔ As a preventive measure during breastfeeding and the first two years of life to reduce atopic (allergy) conditions in childhood (fish oil) (Francois et al., 2003)
✔ Australian children who had adequate omega-3 during gestation and early childhood were 74% less likely to develop asthma (Hodge et al., 1996), and around 40% asthma sufferers significantly reduce frequency of attacks on omega-3 supplements (Broughton et al.,1997)
✔ For normal healthy brain function, especially important for people with attention and/or learning disabilities, pure, quality fish oils are recommended due to their DHA content, which is not found in flax (Richardson, 2006)
✔ Clients seeking better skin and complexion and relief from dry skin — dry or itchy skin is a common sign of omega-3 deficiency; one tablespoon or more of omega-3 flax oil, or capsules of flax and high-GLA borage oils do this best
✔ Those who would like to improve their mood and emotional well-being; note that depression, manic depression and aggressiveness improve particularly when taking EPA from fish oil, but not on ALA from flax oil (Kidd, 2007)
✔ To nourish the vascular system, improve cholesterol ratios and triglyceride levels, and blood clotting. Studies show significant reduction in cardiovascular disease with 1,000 mg EPA fro fish oils (Lavie et al., 2009) and with ALA from flax (Mozaffarian et al., 2005)
✔ To benefit joints and for all those wanting to manage possible inflammation tendencies (both flax oil and pure quality fish oils reduce PGE2) (Goldberg & Katz, 2007)
Omega-3 is the most fluid-like in cell membranes and is a potent anti-inflammatory EFA, whereas omega-6 is generally pro-inflammatory, especially the form called arachidonic acid. Linoleic acid is a precursor of arachidonic acid, which, in turn, is a precursor of prostaglandin E2 (PGE2). PGE2 tends to polarize the immune Th1/Th2 cytokine balance toward Th2 dominance, which increases risks of auto-immune illnesses and increases IgE and in turn histamine. For example, the development of allergies is associated with excess omega-6 and/or too low omega-3 series (which normally competes against omega-6 fatty acids in pro-inflammatory PGE2 formation) (Strannegård & Strannegård, 2001). Omega-3 fish oil has been shown in a recent Australian study to reduce oxidative stress up to 20% by reducing free radical formation caused by inflammation (Mas et al., 2010).
For more scientific details on Omega 3 visit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Omega-3_fatty_acid
For more academic studies on therapeutic uses of Omega 3 visit the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University for reliable information: http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/infocenter/othernuts/omega3fa/
Flax or Fish Oil: What’s Best?
Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) is a member of the omega-3 EFA family, easily made from the ALA found in flax seed oil. EPA is pre-formed in fish oil. EPA is required for to produce prostaglandins, which control blood clotting and other arterial functions. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), concentrated in the eyes and brain, is found only in fish oil and comes from marine algae. Some claim that fish oil, by providing pre-formed EPA and DHA, lowers disease risks more favorably than flax oil. In fact, historically, plant-derived ALA has been the most abundant source of omega-3 in the human diet for the last 40,000 years; it may be what we are genetically most adapted to. The healthy body converts this vegetable-source ALA into EPA and DHA in most people, but not all, due to individual genetics.
Thus, oily fish or fish oil capsules are essential for many people, as EPA and especially DHA bypasses the body’s need for conversion from ALA. Recent studies of Alzheimer’s sufferers show that they have an inability to convert omega-3 ALA and EPA into DHA (Astarita et al., 2010).
Francois study has shown that breastfeeding mothers do not significantly raise their DHA levels from taking flax seed oil alone (Francois et al., 2003). Low DHA is associated with neuroblastoma, one of the most common cancers in children (Gleissman et al., 2011). DHA has also proven in studies to enhance the attention and concentration in infants and children (Richardson, 2006). Therefore, fish oils are recommended during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Liquid fish oil is most recommended for children for its high DHA content.
Many clients prefer two or three fish oil capsules daily over flax oil. It is your decision as a practitioner. We often recommend both fish and flax seed oils, so long as they are pure products.
Toxic Pollutants in Fish Oil
(Source Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fish_oil - click on reference numbers below for the sources).
Fish oil supplements have sometimes come under scrutiny in recent years. In early 2006, government agencies such as the Food Standards Agency in the UK and the Food Safety Authority of Ireland reported PCB levels that exceeded the strict new European maximum limits in several fish oil brands, which required temporary withdrawal of these brands. To address the growing concern over contaminated fish oil supplements, the International Fish Oil Standards program, a voluntary review process, was created at University of Guelph.
Patented production purification processes do however exist in order to remove pollutants and dioxins from fish oil to levels far below the EU limits.*
EU regulations have set a limit on the percentage of toxins that can be present in the oil for it to still be beneficial to the consumer. Recently, concerns in the UK and Ireland with regards to upholding the limits set have resulted in some major manufacturers taking their products off the market on a temporary basis. [Fish oils derived from areas of the North Sea such as salmon from Scotland and Norway are higher in PCB's and Dioxins than the same types of salmon from Australia, Canada, Alaska.]
A March 2010 lawsuit filed by a California environmental group claims that eight popular brands of fish oil supplements contained excessive levels of PCBs, including GNC, Solgar, Twinlab, Now Health, Omega Protein, Pharmavite, CVS/pharmacy, Nature Made, and Rite Aid.
It should be noted, however, that the majority of these products were either cod liver or shark liver oils. Because the liver is the major filtering and detoxifying organ, PCB content will be much higher in such products than in the more common fish oil produced from the processing of whole fish.
* (Note our Vital Nutrients fish oils have all undergone these purification processes, and are verified pure.)
A analysis based on data from the Norwegian Women and Cancer Study (NOWAC) with regards to the dangers of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) in cod liver came to the conclusion that "in Norwegian women, fish liver consumption was not associated with an increased cancer risk in breast, uterus, or colon. In contrast, a decreased risk for total cancer was found."
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