Omega 3: "Fish Oils"

What are Omega-3 oils?

Omega-3 oils are essential fatty acids found in a variety of fish, vegetables and some nuts. Those found in fish contain highly polyunsaturated EPA (Eicosapentanoic acid) and DHA (Decosahexanoic acid), and those found in dark green vegetables have Alpha-Linolenic Acid, all of which are considered "good fats." Omega-3s are essential oils, and are thus important for health and life. This is the basis why physicians and nutritionists highly recommend fish, instead of red meat (pork and beef, etc), and green vegetables for a healthier diet.

Are Omega-3s really good for our health?

Yes, Omega-3s are necessary for our health. They are a natural blood thinner which prevents thickening of blood and blood clot formation, thus reduces hardening of the artery, including coronary arteries of the heart and carotid-brain arteries, thereby lessening the risk of heart attack and stroke. They also play a role in preventing depression and some diseases like diabetes and cancer, and in improving conditions like asthma and allergies, arthritis, migraine, menstrual cramps, etc. How significant a role they have, science at the present has no way of quantifying exactly.

What are the other sources of Omega-3s?

Walnuts, butternuts, canola oil, and especially flaxseeds and flaxseed oil, which contain a lot of Omega-3 in the form of alpha-linolenic acid (LNA), which our body converts to EPA and DHA. Purslane, a low-growing plant, has been found to have the highest level of Omega-3, Vitamins C and E among green leafy vegetables. Fish and shellfish contain only small amount of LNA but a large amount of Omega-3s in the form of EPA and DHA, as in seaweeds. Flaxseed is richest in non-fish LNA. Other sources include macademia nuts, olives, soy protein (tofu), oat and wheat germ, bean sprouts, hickory nuts, spirulina, and lamb.

Is Cod liver Oil the same as Omega 3?

Cod Liver oil is derived from the liver of a variety of species of codfish. The concentrated form available in drug stores varies in potency up to 60,000 USP units of Vitamin A and 6000 units of Vitamin D per gram. Cod liver oil is one of the cheapest sources of Vitamins A and D.

How about peanuts and cashew nuts?

These very popular nuts have very little Omega-3 in them. Per 100 grams, peanuts contain 44.2 grams of fats, 23.6 grams of carbohydrate, 26.9 grams of protein and yields 559 calories. They contain 0.3 mg of Vitamin B, 0.74 mg calcium, 1.9 mg iron, 393 mg phosphorus and 337 mg. Potassium. 100 grams of cashew nuts contain 48.2 grams of fats, 27 grams of carbohydrates, 18.5 grams of protein and yields 578 calories. They contain 0.63 mg of Vitamin B, 46 mg of calcium, 5 mg of iron and 428 mg of phosphorus.

What is Omega-6?

Omega-6 is also an essential fatty acid but has Linoleic acid (LA) instead of LNA. Linoleic acid is found in eggs, pork, whole-grain bread, mayonnaise, fried foods, poultry, cereal, vegetable oils like margarine, safflower oil, sunflower oil, corn oil, cottonseed oil, peanut oil, which are polyunsaturated oils, containing a lot of Omega-6 but no Omega-3. Increased levels of Omega-6 in our body without the "restraining" or "balancing" effect of Omega-3s actually lead to diseases that Omega-6 is supposed to prevent, like heart attack and stroke. While high levels of Omega-3 is good, high levels of Omega-6 is unhealthy. The more Omega-6 we consume, the more Omega-3 we need to "counter" the bad effects of Omega-6.

Are Omega-3 oils available in oral capsules?

Yes, it is. However, the excitement about these capsules in the 70s and 80s in the medical community has since waned precipitously when subsequent clinical studies showed that these Omega-3, (or EPA and DHA) capsules did not confer the health benefit that was theoretically expected of it, as with fish oils. There is no substitute for the natural and "real thing"--- fish. Inuits (Eskimos) in Greenland have very low risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, and hardening of the arteries in general, because they eat a lot of fish, instead of red meat, thus maintaining a high level of Omega-3 in their body.

Does Omega-6 cause blood clots?

Yes. An eicosanoid called thromboxane is made from Omega-6 fatty acid AA. Normally, thromboxane makes our blood "thick enough" in order to prevent spontaneous bleeding. However, if the level is abnormally high because eating a lot of foods containing Omega-6, it leads to "too much thickening" of blood, leading to clot formation. Persistence of this condition, year after year, causes hardening of the artery, leading to high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, etc. Omega-3 counteracts this bad effect of Omega-6 by keeping eicosanoid in check. Omega-3 maintains the safe and healthy consistency of circulating blood.

Can Omega-3 prevent cancer?

Researchers claim that fats high in Omega-6 promote tumor growth to and fats high in Omega-3 blocks tumor growth. They also reported that Omega-3 creates a roadblock, which slows down distant spread (metastasis to other organs) of cancer cells. Omega-3 boosts the immune system, making the body less vulnerable to diseases. Having said these, we have to emphasize the (obvious) medical fact that, to prevent cancer, we must stay away from potential carcinogens, which includes tobacco, red meats and fatty foods, chemicals, radiation, excessive alcohol ingestion, to name a few. If we continue to "injure" and abuse our body with these potential carcinogens, no amount of Omega-3, anti-oxidants, or any medications, will help. It is plain common sense.

Which seafoods contain the highest level of DHA and EPA?

These Omega-3 fatty acids are highest in salmon, mackerel, tuna, herring, sardines, bluefish, trout, whitefish, and striped bass. Per 100 gm of this fish, one gets about 1 gm of EPA and DHA. Moderate sources are carp, flounder, mullet, smelt, cod, catfish, perch, halibut, pike and pollock. Shellfish, squids, octopus contain little EPA and DHA.

So what is a healthy diet?

As a rule, a high fiber diet of fish, vegetables, and a lot of fruits and fruit juices is a healthy diet. Those on special prescribed diets will need dietetic or medical advice as to the daily total caloric intake required. Added to this healthy diet, we recommend daily multivitamin-mineral supplements, red wine with dinner, a regimen of daily exercise, abstinence from tobacco, moderate intake of caffeine (1-2 cups of coffee or one can of cola drink a day), and learning how to combat stress, how to relax and enjoy life. After all, the aim of all these is not only to have longevity but to have a quality and happy life.

©2003Raoul R. Diez, M.A.O.D.