Probiotics, omega 3 fatty acids, and vitamin D were the most popular topics for nutrition related stories in 2013. I’ve written a couple of blogs about vitamin D and I mention omega 3 fatty acids in almost every blog, but I decided to tell the omega fatty acid story today.
The omega 3 fatty acids and their cousin, omega 6 fatty acids are very long chains of carbon molecules with a fatty acid on one end. The term omega means “forever”. Just think of the biblical reference “I am the alpha and the omega”. Because they are so long, omega fatty acids are difficult to digest. The omega 3 fatty acids have a double bond between the third and fourth carbon atoms on the terminal end. The omega 6 fatty acids have the same double bond between the sixth and seventh carbons. That is very important because humans can not make that double bond at the third or sixth carbon. We must obtain omega 3s and 6s in the diet. That is why they are essential, hence the name essential fatty acids. We can make double bonds at several other locations, so the omega 5s, 7s, and 9s are not essential.
Essential fatty acids are used to make anti-inflammatory compounds. They help form the cell membrane in every cell of the body. The lining of the digestive tract, the liver, and the heart are extremely dependent on a constant, rich supply of omega 3 and 6 fatty acids. NSAIDS, like Aleve and Advil, used to block inflammation, also block the chemical pathways of both these essential fatty acids. Each year in the US, over 16,000 people die from taking NSAIDS. Most of them bleed to death because they can not repair the digestive tract, the remainder die from liver failure or heart disease.
Omega 3 fatty acids are the most common nutritional deficiency in the United States. They were naturally occurring in red meat until we replaced the grass diet of cattle with grains. They do occur in fish, but not in farm raised fish like Tilapia. Farm raised fish are fed corn meal and just like the cattle can no longer produce omega 3 fatty acids. They are found in some seeds, like flax seed. However, the vegetable sources of omega 3 fatty acids contain no EPA or DHA, the most important of the omega 3 fatty acids. Although we can not make omega 3s we can convert omega 3s to DHA or EPA. However, just like the cattle and fish, the typical American diet inhibits that conversion.
Omega 6 fatty acids are common in our diet. But we have the same problem converting them into GLA (gamma linolinec acid). In addition, omega 6s can be converted to pro-inflammatory compounds. Because they are common in the diet and can promote inflammation, most nutritionists recommend against supplementation. However, if you look at the people who make inflammatory chemicals from extra virgin olive oil, they are the diabetics, people with hypothyroidism, and those with high serum lipids. These components of Metabolic Syndrome create the abnormal chemical pathways that promote inflammation. In these cases, omega 6 fatty acid metabolism needs to be corrected, not ignored.
The main drawback with omega 3 fatty acids is in processing. The vast majority of supplements are made from fish oil. We have contaminated our environment with mercury and it concentrates in the fish as it moves up the food chain. When you buy wholesale fish oil from Norway, you have the option of paying to have the mercury removed. Good companies pay the price and advertise “mercury free” or “high density molecular extraction” on the label. However, very few supplement companies have the laboratory resources to test for mercury removal. Several years ago 74 companies were indicted for mercury contamination in their fish oil products. Most had paid to have the mercury removed. The few companies that could test the wholesale oil refused to buy it and just stopped making fish oil supplements until clean fish oil was available again.
THE BOTTOM LINE:
Almost any disease or condition is improved with the use of one or both of these essential nutrients. There are good studies on Parkinson’s disease, Senile Dementia, autoimmune disease, and even ADD and ADHD. The research is in, we need and we don’t get it. You absolutely must supplement omega 3 fatty acids. Don’t but the cheap stuff and look for “mercury free”. If taking omega 3 fatty acids upsets your digestive tract or you are interested in supplementing omega 6 fatty acids, seek professional nutritional advice. Correcting abnormal chemical pathways requires intimate knowledge of human nutrition.