OMEGA-3s FACTS: ALA, EPA and DHA
Theoretically, the body converts the long chain omega-3 Alpha-Linoleic Acid (ALA) to EPA; then EPA to DHA; and DHA to prostaglandins of the type PGE3. PGE3 tends to be mildly anti-inflammatory and immune enhancing. It is thought to counter the inflammatory affects of PGE2. It prevents blood platelets from clumping and helps prevent blood vessel spasms. PGE3 formation, like EPA and DHA, can also reduce arachidonic acid in the cells.
However, some factors can interfere with the ALA to EPA to DHA conversion. The most important one is an excess of Omega-6 fatty acids in the bloodstream competing for the same enzymes as Omega-3s for a similar type of metabolism. This explains why too many Omega-6 fats in the diet, mainly coming from vegetable oils, prevent the metabolism of ALA to DHA. Other problems might inhibit the conversion process, such as a deficiency in certain vitamins and minerals, aging or disease.
Good sources of ALA include flax and pumpkin seeds, nuts, soy products, and dark greens. It is also possible to acquire EPA and DHA directly by eating fish; fish oils; seal oil; certain eggs, and mother's milk; or by taking supplements.
EPA and DHA are vital to optimal cardiovascular, neurological and immunological functioning.
"The omega-3s, particularly EPA, are often added to the diet to clean the circulatory system of cholesterol and fat deposits. Specifically, these and other omega-3s reduce blood viscosity, lower lipid levels, reduce clotting, lower blood pressure, and help prevent ischemia (the damage to body tissue that results from interruption of blood flow; examples are strokes and heart attacks). Thus, the omega-3 oils not only minimize circulatory disorders but also encourage blood flow to tissues damaged by lack of circulation." "Healing with Whole foods" by Paul Pitchford.
In fact, most of the western degenerative diseases that have risen exponentially with a deficiency of Omega 3s and an over-consumption of Omega-6s in the food chain may be positively correlated with over fifty diseases and illnesses.
Attention Deficit Disorder
Cracked heels or fingertips
Dry, unmanageable hair
High Blood Pressure
High Blood Cholesterol
Patches of pale skin on cheeks
Poor wound healing
Prostate Cancer or Enlarged
THE DHA, BRAIN, DEPRESSION & STRESS CONNECTION
Happy Brain & Happy Heart!
The human brain is composed of over 60% fat and its primary fat is DHA. Therefore DHA a major structural component for brain functions . A normal brain contains more than 20 grams of DHA. Aside from its concentration in the brain, DHA is also found in the retina of the eye and in sperm. Therefore good vision in newborns and in adults is highly dependent on an adequate intake of omega-3s and DHA, constituting the retina's cells. Studies have indicated that the risk of macular degeneration can be reduced with a sufficient intake of omega-3 fatty acids.
EPA and DHA supplementation alters brain structure, reinforcing the theory that omega-3s affect the function of the brain by fluidizing neuronal cell membranes. When brain membranes are flexible and fluid, the conduction of exchange between neurons becomes optimal.
At every stage of life, from fetus to old age, DHA is crucial for brain development and mental function.
Scientists have also identified a general relation between low levels of DHA and reduced visual, learning and behavioral functions. Dopamine and serotonin, which are receptors and neurotransmitters in the brain, are composed of DHA. They control our positive energy and emotional balance. When a deficiency of omega-3s and DHA occurs, the body may use trans-fatty acid molecules instead, whose structure is straight while DHA is curved. Thus, neurotransmitters become deformed and their functions impaired. A daily accumulation of such substitution can lead to depression, difficulty in concentrating, or to other related mental problems.
There is ample evidence that a deficiency of DHA is associated with migraine headaches, depression, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, and dementia. Clinical studies have shown that an increased intake of DHA may benefit patients with dyslexia and Alzheimer's disease. Some children with attention deficit disorder are not able to convert the precursor omega-3 fatty acids to the longer chain DHA. Dr. Andrew Stoll, working at McLean's Hospital, a part of Harvard University Medical School, has done a number of studies using omega-3 fatty acids in depression and bi-polar disorder. He found that "omega-3 fatty acids may inhibit neuronal signal transduction pathways in a manner similar to that of lithium"
This scenario is exacerbated in the case of children, whose brains are still developing and require optimum DHA amount to learn and focus. The capacity of learning requires the brain to form new neural pathways; if a DHA deficiency is present, the brain will struggle to find what it needs and will compromise by utilizing other type of fatty acids with a wrong structural shape, forming defective and slower new neural pathways. This in turn may possibly lead to difficulty in learning and memorizing, as well as behavior problems. Studies seem to confirm that children suffering from attention deficit disorders and difficulties with assimilating information, such as dyslexia, have a lower level of omega-3s than other fatty acids.
Clinical research on the effects of n-3 LC-PUFAs in an array of health conditions - from type 2 diabetes, psychiatric and behavioral disorders, immune and inflammatory conditions, and certain cancers - is showing the importance of polyunsaturated fatty acids throughout life. Competitive and counterbalancing effects between different types of polyunsaturated fatty acids have turned the thinking about fats and their component fatty acids upside down. This is changing public advice about fatty acid consumption and enhancing our understanding of the fats we need for healthy living.
A study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry has indicated that EPA and DHA can act as mood stabilizers and help to ease mood swings of people suffering from manic depression or bi-polar disorder. Studies conducted in Finland and the Netherlands have also indicated that the richer is the diet in omega-3s, the less people suffer from depression. Therefore, evidence of depression accompanied by low levels of DHA has suggested that the more depressed people are, the less DHA they have. An ancient remedy for depression consisted of feeding the patient animal brains, now known to be extremely high in DHA and Omega-3 fatty acids. Incidentally, pregnant women experience a major loss in DHA as the fetus is absorbing their DHA. Therefore, postpartum depression is quite common after child birth.
Also, the depression that occurs after alcohol consumption can be related to the fact that alcohol temporarily raises PGE1 but also depletes DHA stores extremely rapidly. Researchers at the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism believe that the increasing rates of depression seen in North America over the last 100 years are due to a significant shift in the ratio of omega-6 fatty acids to omega-3 fatty acids in the diet. The researchers speculate that the depressions which often accompany alcoholism, multiple sclerosis, and childbirth are all due to a deficiency of DHA and can be corrected by increasing the dietary intake of DHA.
In addition to depression, stress was shown to be related to a deficiency in omega-3s. Studies have confirmed that stress factors can consume a substantial amount of DHA. This suggests that the resulting DHA deficit may exacerbate the stress and cause further mental problems.
DHA, PREGNANCY AND INFANCY
Because fetuses and babies are unable to metabolize enough Omega-3, it is imperative that pregnant women and nursing mothers maintain an adequate daily dietary intake of Omega-3 fatty acids.
A panel of experts recommends a minimum intake of 300 mg of omega-3 (EPA or DHA) during the last months of pregnancy and during breastfeeding.
A Danish study suggests that women with a higher omega-3 intake during pregnancy give birth to babies with healthier birth weights and are less prone to giving birth prematurely.
Breastfed infants are nourished with mother's milk rich in DHA & DPA, while infants fed with standard baby's formula in North America receive almost no omega-3s. Babyfood companies such as Gerber are talking about adding DHA to their foods (-meanwhile, the same food still contains transfats!). In Japan, parents have been giving their kids DHA supplements for years to help them improve their grades.
One reason explaining why modern mothers may be deficient in omega-3s and DHA, and why they run a greater risk of depression after childbirth, is the common consumption of excessive amounts of refined polyunsaturated vegetable oils.
THE DHA AND CHOLESTEROL CONNECTION
Recent data (from a parallel group study) show that taking 3 g daily of pure DHA (95% DHA, ethyl ester) produce a 30-40% greater reduction in triglyceride levels in plasma than a corresponding amount of EPA (90% EPA, ethyl ester). DHA also seems to have a more marked effect on increasing HDL-cholesterol, whereas EPA was found to slightly decrease both total cholesterol and APO-1 in normal subjects (Grimsgaard et al, 1995). This study suggests that DHA might be more beneficial than EPA in terms of its effects on blood lipids.
A positive correlation has been observed between supplementation with EPA and DHA (85% ethyl ester) and improvements in blood pressure and heart rate in subjects suffering from mild hypertension. Recently published studies shown that it is DHA (EE), not EPA (EE), which lowers the heart rate in healthy humans.
Recent data also show that DHA has a more pronounced inhibitory effect on the expression of cytokines in endothelial cells, which clearly suppress the inflammatory process and may inhibit the progression of atherosclerosis.
OMEGA-3s & THE VASCULAR SYSTEM
A deficiency of Omega-3s is positively correlated with over fifty diseases and illnesses including cancer; heart disease; diabetes; strokes, and arthritis. The so-called western degenerative diseases have risen in a near-perfect linear fashion with the elimination of Omega-3s in the diet and the over-provision of Omega-6 in the food chain, creating a situation that promotes chronic inflammation and the propagation of cancer, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, arthritis, and auto-immunity conditions. The body's inflammatory response is intimately regulated by Omega-3s. The inflammatory response of the body was created to respond to acute injury or microbial attack. However, if the inflammatory response is provoked needlessly, then damage to tissue and organs of the body occurs. The reduction of Omega-3 in the diets of the citizens of industrialized nations has created a situation of chronic inflammation in many people. In this case, the symptom of inflammation precedes the disease. However, as inflammation leads to disease a vicious circle of inflammation of disease is formed.
Therefore, it should come as no surprise that supplemental ingestion of Omega-3 can greatly improve all of the fifty known omega-3 deficiency conditions.
In a landmark study, Japanese researchers have discovered that increased dietary linoleic acid (Omega-6) and relative Omega-3 deficiencies are major risk factors for western type cancers, cardiovascular and cerebrovascular diseases, and also for allergic hyper-reactivity. They have also raised the possibility that a relative Omega-3 deficiency may be affecting the behavioral patterns of some of the young generation in industrialized countries.
Studies indicate that omega-3 can reduce the chance of a primary cardiac arrest by 70%, and of a second arrest by 30%. This results primarily from the fact that omega-3 facilitates the maintenance of the walls of the blood vessels, making them smoother and more elastic, thus reducing vessel blockages which are often the cause of heart problems.
Omega-3 also tends to retard the rate of blood clotting by reducing the "stickiness" of platelets. Heart muscle damage may still take place from a temporary stoppage of an artery, and omega-3 PUFA's prevent this damage from interfering with heartbeats.
Studies further indicate that omega-3 helps reduce a person's blood pressure, which is becoming a chronic problem in an aging population.
Long chain Omega 3 fatty acids have been proven to decrease the LDL cholesterol (low density lipoprotein); serum triglycerides; platelet aggregability; blood viscosity; hypertension; glycerolipid synthesis, and to reduce the fatty droplet deposit to the liver. These fatty acids have also been shown to improve the insulin resistance, liver function, and to enhance red cell deformability.
Lowers Serum Triglyceride Levels
Thousands of published clinical studies indicate that by lowering triglyceride levels, the consumption of Omega-3 fatty acids can reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. The evidence is compelling, but further research is needed.
Thousands of clinical studies indicate that Omega-3 can lower serum triglyceride levels. Therefore, an insufficient daily intake of Omega-3 can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and may also cause a wide variety of other adverse effects such as:
- retarded growth in babies and children
- reduced fertility
- pathological skin changes.
Reduces Blood Pressure
In studies of hypertensive patients an increased intake of Omega-3 reduced blood pressure by 5 to 10 %.
A group of medical researchers at the Johns Hopkins Medical School evaluated the results of 17 clinical trials involving supplementation with fish oils for periods of three months or less. They found that the consumption of 3 grams per day of fish oil (6-10 capsules) or more led to impressive reductions in the blood pressure of hypertensive individuals.
Minimizes Hardening of the Arteries
The well documented beneficial effect of Omega-3s on arterial wall elasticity is probably one of the reasons why it reduces blood pressure in hypertensive patients.
In the largest heart disease prevention trial to date, over 11,000 people in Italy who survived a myocardial infarction reduced their chance of dying suddenly by nearly half (45%) with the consumption of about a gram per day of purified n-3 LC-PUFAs of the kind found in fatty fish. Decades of studies in many countries have shown that people who consume fatty fish regularly are less prone to several chronic diseases.
According to studies involving adults suffering from cardiovascular pathologies such as myocardial infarction and rhythm disorders, omega-3s fatty acids were responsible for reducing mortality by 20 to 56%.
"Omega-3 is so effective in this field that there is no drug for prevention of cardiovascular disease available today with better results." (GISSI-Prevenzione investigators, 1999; Singh et al. 2002; de Lorgeril et al., 2002)
Stabilizes Heart Rhythm- Recent research has demonstrated that Omega-3 fatty acids improves heart rhythm stability in healthy volunteers and in patients who have suffered a myocardial infarction. Omega-3 fatty acids may also protect against myocardial arrhythmia and sudden cardiac arrest.
Hypertension is a leading cause of cardiovascular disease and stroke. A number of recent studies have shown that daily supplementation with EPA/DHA may reduce death rates in hypertensive patients.