encyclopedia

Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acids

Natural Sources:
Fatty fish including salmon, tuna, mackerel and sardines; flaxseed oil; other seed and nut oils such as pumpkin seed oil, canola oil and soya oil, grass and dark green leafy vegetables, meats from wild or range fed animals.

Forms:
Standardized fish oil extracts sold in capsules or bulk form; certified organic culinary oils (expeller-pressed in the absence of light, heat and oxygen).

Therapeutic Uses:
– ADD/ADHD

– Allergies

– Anti-inflammatory

– Antioxidant (indirect)

– Asthma

– Atherosclerosis

– Arthritis

– Autoimmune Diseases

– Behavioral Disorders

– Brain Disorders

– Cancer

– Cardiovascular Disease

– Cellular Regeneration

– Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

– Cleansing

– Depression

– Detoxifying

– Diabetes

– Eczema

– EFA Deficiency

– Endometriosis

– Eyesight Disorders

– Fatigue

– Fibrocystic Breast Disease

– Fibroids

– Fibromyalgia

– Gout

– Heart Health Maintenance

– Hemorrhoids

– Hepatitis

– Hormone Imbalances

– Hypertension

– Infantile Atopic Eczema

– Joint Pain

– Lyme’s Disease

– Mastalgia

– Menopausal Problems

– Mood Swings

– Muscle Cramps/Pain

– Nervous Disorders

– Neurological Disorders

– Neuropathy

– Osteoporosis

– PMS

– Pre-ecclampsia

– Pregnancy-related Disorders

– Postpartum Depression

– Postviral Fatigue Syndrome

– Reducing LDL Cholesterol

– Reproductive Organ Health

– Retinal Disorders

– Rheumatoid Arthritis

– Senility/Aging Problems

– Skin Disorders

– Sleep Disorders

– Stroke

– Tendonitis

– Vascular Disorders

– Vascular Tone

Overview:

Omega-3 essential fatty acids are one of two types of essential fats that must be obtained through the diet because, like vitamins, they are essential but can’t be produced by the body. There are two fatty acids that are essential for life – linoleic acid (LA) in the omega-6 family and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) in the omega-3 family. Omega-6 fatty acids are readily found in most foods containing fats and oils, however, omega-3 fatty acids are found only in fish, range fed animals and a select few plants including flaxseed and dark green leafy vegetables. Flaxseed oil is an excellent source of omega-3 EFA as it contains approximately 57% alpha linolenic acid (ALA) and 15% linoleic acid (LA). The human body converts LA and ALA into longer chain fatty acids including arachidonic acid (AA), gamma linolenic acid and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). These conversion steps can be slowed down by many lifestyle factors, including a diet rich in saturated fats and trans-fatty acids, stress, viral infections, too much alcohol or cholesterol and various illnesses. Flaxseed oil can be used to prevent and treat EFA deficiencies in the diet, such as those related to brain and retinal disorders, especially in infants, vascular disorders and hormonal imbalances. Every cell of the body has a phospholipid membrane made up of essential fatty acids: 60% EFA’s for most cells and 80% EFA’s for brain and nerve cells. The human retina is fully 60% omega-3’s. Omega-3 EFAs are important for membrane fluidity of all cells of the body; they also protect the body against abnormal blood clotting and are anti-inflammatory. Studies have shown that increased levels of omega-3s in the diet increases the flexibility of red blood cells for passing through capillaries and blood vessels within only three days and reduces and/or normalizes blood platelet stickiness.

Chemistry:
The most common omega-3 (n-3) fatty acid obtained from food is called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA, 18:3 n-3); the most common omega-6 (n-6) is called linoleic acid (LA, 18:2 n-6). These are polyunsaturated fatty acids with an 18 carbon chain length with their first double bond at either the third carbon (n-3) or the sixth carbon (n-6) from the methyl group end. These EFA’s must be obtained from foods because the body can not produce them on it’s own and they are required as precursors for many biologically essential molecules.

Suggested Amount:
The recommended daily dosage for omega-3 EFAs ranges between 5 – 7 grams daily. To obtain this amount from flaxseed oil, it is recommended to take at least one tablespoon of flaxseed oil daily with food. Flaxseed oil can be used as a component of salad dressings, or it can be incorporated into other foods such as non-hydrogenated margarines or butters, or it can be mixed in with fruit smoothies or other shaken drinks. Flaxseed oil should never be used for frying foods, but may be used safely in baked foods. Other sources of omega-3 EFAs include pumpkinseed oil (10%), canola oil (10%), walnut oil (20%), butternuts (8%), wheat germ oil (7%), Persian English walnuts (7%), green soybeans (3%), soya oil (3-6%), roasted soybean kernels (1.5%), Beechnuts (1.7%), oat germ (1.4%) and purslane (1%). Fatty fish included in the diet can also be used as a source of omega-3s. Omega-3 EFA levels of fish include Atlantic mackerel (2.3% otherwise expressed as 2.3g per 100g (3.5 ounces) or 2,299mg per 100 grams), Pacific herring (1.7%), Atlantic herring (1.6%), Pacific and jack mackerel (1.4%), Chinook or king salmon (1.4%), bluefin tuna (1.2%), sockeye salmon (1.2%), pink salmon (1%), coho salmon (0.8%). Omega-3 EFAs from canned fish include anchovies canned in olive oil and drained prior to eating (2%), pickled Atlantic herring (1.4%), pink salmon including liquid and bones (1.6%), Pacific salmon in tomato sauce (1.6%), sockeye salmon (1.1%), Atlantic sardines in soybean oil (drained with bones) (1%), albacore white tuna in water and drained (0.7%), light tuna in water and drained (0.1%). This information is from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and can be obtained from the U.S. Nutrient Database on the worldwide web. For more detailed information of foods with EFA levels, see the books Food Your Miracle Medicine and Stop Aging Now by Jean Carper (1993, 1995).

Drug Interactions:
Omega-3 EFAs, when taken in excessive amounts, can prolong bleeding time and weaken the strength of blood vessels. Do not take omega-3 EFA supplements (in capsule form) while on blood thinners without first consulting with your physician. Stroke victims and persons at risk of having a stroke should also first consult with their physicians prior to using omega-3 EFA supplements.

Contraindications:
Omega-3 EFA supplements (in capsule form) are contraindicated for persons on blood thinners without first consulting with your physician. Stroke victims and persons at risk of having a stroke should also first consult with their physician prior to using omega-3 EFA supplements.

Side Effects:
Taken as directed, omega-3 rich oils do not have any negative side effects. However, excessive flaxseed oil and/or omega-3 EFAs in the diet, in the absence of adequate levels of omega-6 EFAs, can weaken blood vessels and capillaries and increase the tendency and frequency of nose bleeds and other bleeding problems. This increased risk of bleeding with excessive flaxseed oil and/or omega-3 EFAs in the diet can be avoided simply by using EFA balanced flaxseed oil blends containing sunflower and other oils.

References:

Belch et al. 1988: Effects of altering dietary essential fatty acids on requirements for non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs in patients with rhematoid arthritis: a double blind placebo controlled study. Ann Rheum Dis 47(2): 96-104.

Carper, J. 1993. Food Your Miracle Medicine: How Food Can Prevent and Cure Over 100 Symptoms and Problems. Based on more than 10,000 scientific studies. Published by HarperCollins Publ., Inc., 10 East 53rd Street, NY.

Erasmus, U. 1993: Fats that Heal, Fats that Kill. Published by Alive Books, Burnaby, B.C., Canada. Pp. 1-456.

Siguel 1996. Diagnosis of Essential Fatty Acid (EFA) Deficiency: Using Flax to Prevent Heart Disease. Proc. 56th Flax Institute of the USA, J.F. Carter, ed. North Dakota State Univ., Fargo, ND pp123-133.

Stordy, J. 1995: Benefits of docosahexaenoic acid supplementation to dark adaptation in dyslexics. Lancet 346: 8971, 385.

Additional Information:

Essential Fatty Acids for Humans: A Discussion on Breast Milk, Infant Formulas, Flax Oil, Fish Oils and other Dietary Oils.

by Suzanne Diamond, B.Sc., M.Sc., (Botany)

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