Omega-3s: Healthy Fats You May Not Be Getting Enough Of...

Omega-3 fatty acids are healthy fats that reduce inflammation, inhibit cancer development and protect our blood vessels. There are long-chain and short chain fatty acids. Short-chain omega-3 fats are found in some green vegetables, walnuts, and flax, chia, and hemp seeds. The basic building block of short-chain omega-3 fat is alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Our bodies are only capable of converting a small amount of these short chain fats to long-chain omega-3 fats, called docoshexanoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA).

Studies show that people have varying ability to convert ALA into DHA and EPA. Apparently, some people eating sufficient ALA from greens, seeds and walnuts can achieve adequate levels while others cannot. Men generally convert less than women. Conversion of ALA by the body to these longer-chain fatty acids is inefficient: < 5-10% for EPA and only 2-5% for DHA.1

DHA is one of the crucial building blocks of human brain tissue. It has been shown to protect against dementia, depression, inflammatory diseases, attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), allergies, and to offer significant benefits for overall cardiovascular health.

Early in life, DHA is supplied via the placenta and from breast milk. While adequate DHA is particularly important for pregnant and nursing women and young children, it is beneficial for all ages!

  • Improves your child's intelligence
  • Aids depression and Attention Deficit Disorder
  • Improves memory
  • Important for brain and eye development
  • Promotes smoother skin; prevents wrinkles
  • Helps prevent heart disease and arthritis
  • Lowers risk of Alzheimer's and senior dementia
  • Lowers "bad" cholesterol

These long-chain omega-3 fatty acids are also produced by marine algae which serve as the source of DHA and EPA in fish. Although, fish is a good source of EPA and DHA, unfortunately, it's one of the most polluted foods which we eat. Therefore, it can not be considered a safe source of these healthy fats.

Fish have been shown to contain fat soluble petrochemicals, such as PCB's and dioxins as a result of the dumping of toxic waste and raw sewage into our oceans. Fish also contains mercury. According to the Center for Disease Control, 1 in 12 women of childbearing age in the United States have unsafe mercury levels (and the CDC's threshold for safety is high). Multiple studies have illustrated most of the body's mercury load comes from the consumption of fish.

For these reasons, I recommend consuming little or no fish. If you choose to consume fish, try to stay away from those high in fat and known to be high in mercury such as shark, swordfish, mackerel, pike, tuna, snapper, lobster, grouper, sea bass and bluefish. Instead, use the lower fat (less polluted) fish such as flounder, sole, haddock, scallops, squid, trout, hake, ocean perch, shrimp and tilapia.

Some nutritional advisors encourage consuming high amounts of flax seed oil to promote the conversion of enough DHA. I do not agree. First of all, flax seed oil is an empty calorie food with little or no vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and flavonoids that were present in the original seeds. Furthermore, we have a significant collection of data that indicates that the consumption of high doses of ALA from flax oil may increase, not decrease the risk of prostate cancer.1 In contrast, flax seed consumption has been shown in multiple studies to lower the risk of both breast cancer and prostate cancer.3

I prefer people not consume much fish to assure sufficient consumption or conversion of omega-3s. Since the ability to self-convert short chain ALA into long-chain DHA is so variable from person to person, I recommend a mixture of natural omega-3 containing plants plus some extra plant-derived DHA. I advise people obtain their omega-3 fats by consuming the cleaner, plant sources such as walnuts, flax, chia, and hemp seeds and by also taking a daily DHA supplement like my DHA Purity. My DHA Purity is a laboratory cultivated DHA product made from microalgae. It is a pure form of DHA without environmental contamination or unnecessary disruption of our ocean life. 

1. Davis, B. C. and P. M. Kris-Etherton. Achieving optimal essential fatty acid status in vegetarians: current knowledge and practical implications. Am J Clin Nutr 2003;78(3 Suppl):640S-646S. Brenna, J. T. Efficiency of conversion of alpha-linolenic acid to long chain n-3 fatty acids in man. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care 2002;5(2):127-32.

2. Brouwer IA, Katan MB, Zock PL. Dietary alpha-linolenic acid is associated with reduced risk of fatal coronary heart disease, but increased prostate cancer risk: a meta-analysis. J Nutr 2004 Apr;134(4):919-22.

3. Demark-Wahnefried W, Price DT, Polascik TJ, et al. Pilot study of dietary fat restriction and flaxseed supplementation in men with prostate cancer before surgery: exploring the effects on hormonal levels, prostate-specific antigen, and histopathologic features. Urology 2001 Jul;58(1):47-52.

Image credit: niznoz

What Vegans May Be Missing...

Certainly a plant-based diet which minimizes animal products is the best approach for losing weight, preventing and reversing disease, and optimizing health. However, those following a vegetarian or vegan diet, and those not consuming fatty fish like salmon each week, should be aware of recent studies that suggest they may be deficient in a critical and essential nutrient, especially EPA & DHA, the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids.

Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is an omega-3 fat and is the precursor of the longer chain omega 3 fats eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). EPA and to a lesser extent DHA can be made in the body from ALA. Primary sources of these fatty acids are certain fish and seafood.

As a result, vegetarian, and especially vegan, diets provide little EPA and DHA directly. A recent study reviewed the varying dietary fat intake across vegetarians, vegans, omnivores, and semi omnivores and its impact on essential omega-3 fatty acid availability in tissues. It concluded that vegetarians were left with reduced levels of omega-3 and recommended that they consume additional direct sources of EPA and DHA, regardless of age or gender, for physical, mental and neurological health benefits.1

In addition, ALA, EPA, and DHA are especially important for the prevention of certain cancers, particularly those of the breast and colon, and possibly of the uterus and the skin, and are likely to reduce the risk of postpartum depression, manic-depressive psychosis, dementias, Parkinson's, hypertension, toxemia, diabetes, and to a certain extent, age-related macular degeneration.2

Although vegetarian diets are generally lower in total fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol than are non-vegetarian diets and may appear to offer cardiovascular health benefits due to higher intakes of antioxidants and fiber, the lack of direct EPA or DHA dietary sources may cause an adverse effect.3,4

With all of this documented research, it is not surprising that when I draw blood for fatty acid analysis on many of my patients, I find that a large percentage of individuals who do not eat fish or seafood regularly do not have optimal levels of DHA, even those eating walnuts and flaxseeds on a regular basis. I often see patients eating otherwise excellent diets with itchy dry skin, seborrheac dermatitis and other signs of DHA deficiency.

Although, there are some vegans and vegetarians regularly consuming walnuts and flaxseeds (which supply adequate ALA) may produce enough DHA on their own and may not require supplementation. However, because this issue is so imperative to their health it should be confirmed with a blood test before assuming that the conversion level is adequate. In order to assure optimal production of DHA fat, without recommending that the consumption of fish or refined fish oils, I recommend taking a vegetable sourced DHA supplement. DHA alone can deliver the same benefits of fish oil, since the intake of DHA can cause a natural retro-conversion to EPA internally.

Laboratory cultivated DHA is made from microalgae and is a pure form of DHA without environmental contamination. It is grown in the laboratory, not collected in the wild. It has no mercury or other toxins, which is a concern even for non-vegans who are cautious about eating fish or seafood.

DHA has been shown to protect against dementia, depression, inflammatory diseases, attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), allergies, and to offer significant benefits for overall cardiovascular health.

There are other problems with consuming fish oils. The main problem is that the fat turns rancid as it sits on store shelves. As a result, many people complain of burping, indigestion, a foul taste, and long lasting fish-breath. I have also observed that rancidity of this fish fat can place a stress on the liver. Patients of mine have had blood tests showing abnormal liver function when consuming fish oil in significant amounts and then have had these tests return to normal when the fish oils were stopped.

Fortunately, vegetable derived DHA, from microalgae, is an alternative. However, even algae derived DHA can become rancid if not cared for properly. We go through great lengths to deliver the purest and freshest DHA product available on the market today. My DHA Purity is manufactured under strict conditions to ensure purity. Every step of the way, from production to packaging, transportation and storage, this product is kept refrigerated and handled to ensure optimal freshness.

In conjunction with a high nutrient, plant-based diet, I advise all people take a daily DHA supplement from a clean source. Early in life, DHA is supplied via the placenta and from breast milk. While adequate DHA is particularly important for pregnant and nursing women and young children, it is beneficial for all ages!

1. Kornsteiner M, Singer I, Elmadfa I. Very low n-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acid status in Austrian vegetarians and vegans. Ann Nutr Metab. 2008; 52(1):37-47.

2. Bourre JM Dietary omega-3 fatty acids for women. Biomed Pharmacother. 2007; 61(2-3):105 12.

3. Davis BC; Kris-Etherton PM Achieving optimal essential fatty acid status in vegetarians: current knowledge and practical implications. Am J Clin Nutr. 2003; 78(3 Suppl):640S-646S

4. Lee HY; Woo J; Chen ZY; Leung SF; Peng XH Serum fatty acid, lipid profile and dietary intake of Hong Kong Chinese omnivores and vegetarians. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2000; 54(10):768-73.

Image credit: CB Photography

Omega-3 Fatty Acids Lower Inflammation

New findings in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition show high blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids result in less inflammation associated with cardiovascular disease. For the study, experts divided 124 adults into groups based on the amount of C-reactive protein, a marker for inflammation linked to heart disease, in their blood and found an inverse relationship between fatty acids and C-reactive protein, greater levels of omega-3 fatty acids like DHA and EPA helped reduce the risk of inflammation; Nutra Ingredients reports.

Walnuts a great source of omega-3 fatty acids. I eat some everyday. Actually, omega-3’s also help prevent stroke, lower the incidence of prostate cancer and reduce risk of type-1 diabetes in children. Dr. Fuhrman sells his own fatty acid supplement, DHA Purity.

In February, a study showed omega-3 fatty acids help protect the liver from damage caused by obesity, reducing inflammation and improving insulin tolerance.

Image credit: flora.cyclam

Green-News: Monday 12.15.08

  • Mexico pledges to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2050, making it one of the few developing countries to set such a goal. They’ll use solar power, wind power and other clean technologies to meet the mark. Officials hope other countries follow; via the Associated Press.