January 29th 2005 - Fatty Acid Essentials
copyright by Karen S. Vaughan, MSTOM, L.Ac.
You want to prevent heart disease, diabetes, cancer, depression and Alzheimer's. You may suffer from rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis, Raynaud's disease, Lupus or autoimmune diseases. One of the most important things you can do for all of these is increase your intake of the omega-3 fats found in fish oil and cod liver oil, and reduce your intake of omega-6 fats.
These two types of fat, omega-3 and omega-6, are both essential for human health and must be consumed from the diet because the body does not manufacture them. Omega-6 comes from feedlot meats and dairy (the most common kind), corn, soy, canola, safflower and sunflower oils. Omega 3 oils come from pasture-raised meats and game, fish, walnut oil, flaxseed oil and evening primrose oil.
The typical American consumes far too many omega-6 fats in their diet while consuming very low levels of omega-3. The ideal ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats is 1:1. Our ancestors evolved over millions of years on this ratio. Today, though, our ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 ranges from 20:1 to 50:1! That is dangerous to your heart, your blood vessels and even to your brain.
Your cell walls are made up of a double layer of fats bonded to water-loving molecules. The fats keep out undesirable elements from the cell while allowing necessary nutrients in through receptors and gates. If the cell walls are made of Omega 6 fats they "stiffen" and it is more difficult to get insulin-carried sugar, neurotransmitters and other vital blood-borne nutrients into the cells. Cells become insulin-resistant, which can cause Type 2 Diabetes, and blood vessels become inflamed, leading to cardiovascular disease. Brain cells may not get enough sugar despite high blood sugar levels. Even serotonin may not be absorbed sufficiently leading to depression.
By far, the best type of omega-3 fats are those found in fish. That's because the omega-3 in fish is high in two fatty acids crucial to human health, DHA and EPA. These two fatty acids are pivotal in preventing heart disease, cancer, and many other diseases. The human brain is also highly dependent on DHA - low DHA levels have been linked to depression, schizophrenia, memory loss, and a higher risk of developing Alzheimer's. Researchers are now also linking inadequate intake of these omega-3 fats in pregnant women to premature birth and low birth weight, and to hyperactivity in children.
Unfortunately eating most fresh fish, whether from the ocean, lakes and streams, or farm-raised, is no longer recommended. Mercury levels in almost all fish have now hit dangerously high levels across the world, and the risk of this mercury to your health now outweighs the fish's omega-3 benefits. There are some brands of wild Alaskan salmon which are low in mercury and high in Omega 3s. But New York fish purveyors have been illegally labeling farm-raised salmon as Alaskan despite its much more toxic profile because of the huge price differential. I can recommend the Vital Choice Alaskan wild red salmon available by mail order from the Mercola.com site, one of the better medical sites available on the web. (www.mercola.com)
(Note that I have no financial interest in any products recommended here.)
Most encapsulated fish oil or cod liver oil is now mercury free according to independent testing by Consumer Labs. They are not all equal in anti-inflamatory benefits however. Fish oils go rancid easily and may have differing levels of EPA and DHA, the best omega-3 fats. Fish oil is best in the summer months and cod liver oil, which has vitamin D, is best in the winter or if you rarely get outdoors during prime sunlight hours.
While vitamin D deficiency can increase the risk for cancer and other diseases, overdosing on vitamin D -- having levels that are too high -- can bring its own set of problems, incluidng osteoporosis and hardening of your arteries. So if your vitamin D levels are too high, even in the winter months you should consider sticking to fish oil versus cod liver oil. If you supplement VItamin D or spend long hours out of doors, especially in southern latitudes, consider having your doctor test your Vitamin D levels.
I prefer Carlson's oils, which can be purchased in a bottle or in capsules and comes in a lemon flavor which is good on salads or in yogurt, and Vital Choice Omega 3 with E, which contains full spectrum natural Vitamin E and EPA.Take one teaspoon of Carlson's liquid oil for every 50 pounds of body weight daily. (1 Tbsp for a 150 pound person). For Carlson's Cod Liver Oil Softgels with Low Vitamin A, I highly recommend taking one softgel for every ten pounds of body weight. However, do not exceed more than15 pills per day -- unless you have had your fatty acid levels tested.
Living Fuel OMEGA-3 & E is a unique product containing EPA and DHA as well as mixed tocotrienols and tocopherols (full-spectrum vitamin E). It also contains Gamma linolenic acid (GLA)--an important essential omega-6 fatty acid from Evening Primrose or borage seeds that when combined with EPA promotes beneficial prostaglandins to enhance the anti-inflammatory response. As a dietary supplement, take one (1) soft gel per 25 pounds of ideal body weight with meals. This one is best if you suffer from inflamatory diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes or cardiovascular disease. It is found on the mercola.com website or at Vitamin Shoppe store.
You can use a wine saver to create a vacuum to better preserve your fish oil. Simply transfer your fish oil to a bottle that fits the wine saver cap (many conventional containers).using something like a Vacu Vin wine saver which allows you to pump out the air inside the bottle prior to sealing, iis very durable, and costs under $15.00.
Fish oils may be useful adjuncts in protocols that deal with:
Arthritis and other inflammatory disorders
Psoriasis and other skin problems
Vegetarians can eat walnuts and take flaxseed. Note that flaxseed oil turns rancid within minutes and should be freshly ground immediately before eating. Even refrigerated oil under 3 months of age may have significant rancidity so I do not recommend it. Flaxseed oil also contains higher amounts of Omega 6 oils and may not be converted in the body. Hemp oil is another source that has less rancidity. Walnuts have been shown in recent studies to have specific benefits in protecting against heart disease. In truth none of these sources compare to high quality fish oil. If you are vegetarian and suffer from dryness, cold or inflammatory disease consider at least adding fish oils to your diet.
Olive oil has Omega 9 fats, another source of essential fatty acids. Olive oil is an excellent post-cooking oil and I generally mix it with my lemon fish oil for salads.
You should not cook with Omega oils as they are easily changed by heat to be more dangerous than saturated oils. They should be added after cooking.
Dietary sources of omega 3 fats include range-fed eggs with an omega 6/3 ratio of 1.5 to one (versus 20/1 for supermarket eggs.), Eggs are best cooked sunny side up or consumed raw where the fats and proteins are not degraded by heat. (Salmonella risk is 1 in 40,000 and most cases have involved commercial situations where vats of cracked eggs were sitting around.)
North Dakota State University conducted a study on the nutritional differences between grass-fed and grain-fed bison (buffalo). The results of that study closely followed that of the egg studies. The grass-fed bison had omega 6 to omega 3 ratios of 4.0 to one, and the grain-fed bison had ratios of 21 to one. Buffalo is available at many Greenmarkets, the Park Slope Food Coop or the mercola.com website.
Grass fed beef which has NOT been finished with grain is another source of Omega 3s and are available in the same places as the bison as well as Back to the Land. Grass fed beef has an omega 6:3 ratio of 0.16 to 1. This well exceeds the 4:1 ratio where health problems begin to show up because of the essential fat imbalance. Also grain fed beef can have over 50% of the total fat as the far less healthy saturated fat.. Key Food and D'Agostinos sell organic beef but it is not necessarily exclusively grass-fed. The longer cattle are fed grain, the greater the fatty acid imbalance. For instance, after a common 200 days in the feedlot, grain-fed cattle have omega 6 to omega 3 ratios that exceed 20 to one. fed organic beef is also raised without hormones or antibiotics.
For cooking I prefer organic coconut oil or clarified organic butter (ghee). Contrary to mainstream thinking, virgin coconut oil is one of the healthiest oil you can consume. It is rich in lauric acid, which is known for being antiviral, antibacterial and antifungal, contains no trans fat and boosts the immune system.
Coconut oil fell out of favor after a series of studies (some funded by the Soybean Institute) showed that hydrogenated coconut and palm oils with no essential fatty acids caused serious health effects. Hydrogenation is likely the culprit rather than coconut oil itself. Coconut oil has the lowest peroxidation ratio after heating when compared to other common oils. Coconut oil has been kept at room temperature for a year and tested for rancidity, showing no evidence of it. Coconut oil is unusually rich in short and medium chain fatty acids. Shorter chain length allows fatty acids to be metabolized without use of the carnitine transport system which would increase oxidative damage to cells. Various fractions of coconut oil are advertised as treatments for diseases. Butyric acid is used to treat cancer, lauric and myristic acids to treat virus infections, and mixtures of medium-chain fats are sold for weight loss since coconut oil increases metabolism. Refining may increase certain effects, and costs more, but I think the whole natural product, used as a regular food, is the best way to protect health.
Organic ghee is a source of Conjugated linoleic acid: CLA and does not (degrade) easily with heat. Scientific research show that the polyunsaturated vegetable oils promote weight gain (which is why they are fed to cattle), While they do promote weight gain in livestock, they do so at the expense of another essential fatty acid: (CLA).
CLA is found primarily in beef and dairy products and cannot be produced in the human body. Research has shown that animals grazed strictly on grass--their natural diet--can have levels of CLA hundreds of times higher than animals raised on grain feeds. Another major effect of CLA is its role in body fat. A study published in the June 2004 American Journal of Clinical Nutrition said animal studies have shown that CLA inhibits the formation of building fat. Not only does it appear to reduce body fat, it does so while preserving muscle tissue. CLA has also been shown to destroy cancer cells and reduce tumors, may reduce insulin reistance, reduce food allergies, lower cholesterol and triglycerides .
Supplementing the diet with fatty acid CLA may be beneficial to diabetics. After an eight-week study, diabetics who had added CLA to their diets not only had lower body mass and blood sugar levels, but also lower levels of leptin, a hormone that regulates fat levels. High levels of leptin may play a role in obesity, which is one of the biggest risk factors for adult-onset diabetes.
CLA is composed of various fatty acid isomers, each of which can have different effects. One CLA isomer, t10c12-CLA (which is sometimes called the 10-12 isomer), played a role in controlling both body weight and leptin levels.
CLA generally should not be taken as a supplement because the isomer (type) used has been shown to have negative reactions, raising insulin resistance, increasing blood sugar, reducing good cholesterol and upsetting the stomach. Get it from food sources instead.
Raw grass-fed dairy is the best source of CLA but is illegal in New York State unless you raise your own goats or cows. It can be ordered frozen from the mercola.com website but postage makes it very expensive. Raw milk cheeses on the other hand are good sources and can be found at the Park Slope Food Coop, Back to the Land and some Greenmarkets. Pasturized grass fed milk does have higher CLA levels and can be found at the Food Coop.
One other caveat on fats and oils: since oils of animal origin have the multiplier effect, they should be organic and pesticide free. Susun Weed maintains that a pound of organic butter saves pesticides on the order of 5 years consumption of organic vegetables. I haven't done the math myself, but the principle is sound.
Acupuncture and Herbs by Karen Vaughan, L.Ac in Park Slope and Manhattan.
118 East 37th Street, New York, NY 10016
Brooklyn, NY 11215