Combining Nutrients and Completing the Nutritional Jigsaw
Your body creates millions of new cells every day. Your nutritional intake helps decide whether they will be healthy – or gradually accumulate damage.
Nutrients do not work in isolation. The combination of a wide range of nutrients from your food – including supplements – is a key determinant of your health.
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Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fatty acids – which means they are necessary for health but the body cannot make them.
Omega-3 fatty acids help reduce inflammation, whereas most omega-6 fatty acids (as in corn oil, sunflower oil and safflower oil) tend to promote inflammation. The typical Western diet tends to contain 15 – 30 times more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3 fatty acids, which many researchers consider a potentially dangerous excess of omega-6.
The “Mediterranean Diet” emphasise foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, including whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, fish, olive oil, garlic, as well as moderate wine consumption. Studies have shown that people who follow this diet are less likely to develop heart disease.
Omega 3 fatty acids can be found in fish, such as salmon, sardines, tuna, and halibut, and some plants and nut oils. Also known as polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), omega-3 plays a crucial role in brain function, as well as normal growth and development.
Because omega-3 can help reduce inflammation, research indicates a lower risk of diseases that are developed as a result of chronic inflammation.
Clinical evidence suggests that the two forms of omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil – EPA and DHA (eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid) – help reduce other risk factors for heart disease, including high cholesterol and high blood pressure.
People who follow a Mediterranean style diet tend to have higher levels of the ‘good’ form of cholesterol – HDL – which promotes heart health. Several studies have shown that fish oil supplements can also reduce triglycerides -i.e. blood fat levels.
People with diabetes often have high triglyceride and low HDL levels. Omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil can help lower triglycerides and raise HDL, so eating foods or taking fish oil supplements may help people with diabetes.
Laboratory studies suggest that diets rich in omega-3 fatty acids (and low in the pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids) may also help people with osteoarthritis – especially when combined with other ant-inflammatory supplements like curcumin and flavonoids.
Since the brain has a high fatty acid component, omega-3 fatty acid may well help in the building of healthy brain cells.
It is, however, unlikely that any one supplement on its own will have a major effect on health, it is the combination of a range of anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant supplements with conventional vitamins and minerals that would be expected to have a measurable effect.
Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are found in cold water fish such as salmon, mackerel, halibut, sardines, tuna, and herring. ALA – another form – is found in flaxseeds, flaxseed oil, walnuts, and walnut oil, soybeans, soybean oil, and pumpkin seeds.
The health effects of omega-3 fatty acids come mostly from EPA and DHA. ALA from flax and other vegetarian sources needs to be converted in the body to EPA and DHA, which in some people is not efficiently done.
Every cell in your body is surrounded by a cell membrane composed mainly of fatty acids. The cell membrane permits nutrients to enter the cell, and ensures that waste products are removed from the cell.
To achieve this, the cell membrane must maintain its integrity and structure. Cells without a healthy membrane have a reduced ability to hold water and nutrients. They also become less able to communicate with other cells. Loss of cell to cell communication is known to be a factor in the growth of tumours.
Because cell membranes are largely made up of fat, the type of fat you eat determines whether the cell has the proper ‘building blocks’ to maintain the integrity and structure of the more than 100 trillion cell membranes in your body.
Researchers believe that diets containing large amounts of saturated or hydrogenated fats produce poor quality cell membranes. On the other hand, diets rich in omega-3 fats produce cell membranes that have a healthy structure.
Omega-3 fats also play an important role in the production of prostaglandins. Prostaglandins help regulate many important physiological functions including blood pressure, blood clotting, nerve transmission, allergic responses, kidney function, and the production of other hormones.
EPA and DHA are direct precursors for series 3 prostaglandins, which reduce platelet stickiness, reduce inflammation and improve blood flow. This helps explain the role of EPA and DHA may play in the prevention of cardiovascular disease.
The omega 6 fats in contrast are precursors for series 2 prostaglandins. Series 2 prostaglandins promote an inflammatory response and increase platelet aggregation (stickiness). This is why it is important to ensure proper balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fats in the diet.
Polyunsaturated oils, including the omega-3 fats, are susceptible to damage from heat, light, and oxygen. When exposed for too long, the fatty acids in the oil become oxidized, or rancid. The oxidation of fatty acids produces free radicals, which are thought to be involved in the development of degenerative and age related diseases.
Oils rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids should therefore be stored in dark glass, closed containers in the refrigerator. Reduce cooking temperatures when sautéing or stir frying.
Vitamin E, the primary fat-soluble antioxidant, protects omega-3 fats from oxidation and free radical damage.
Note: People on Warfarin or other blood thinning drugs should consult their physician before taking Omega 3 supplements as Omega 3 itself has a blood thinning effect. Similarly consult with your doctor if you are on diabetes medication.
For a full explanation of how omega 3 can be part of an overall and comprehensive health programme, use this link to Chapter 8 of Dr Clayton’s best-selling book, Health Defence.