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Eating Fat Not Necessarily a Bad Thing E-mail
Written by Jeff Behar   

Today many people are overweight, have higher risks of many chronic diseases, and as such have become concerned regarding their intake of fat. Consumption of highly processed foods and a reduction in excercise has contributed to the situation and resulting concerns.

Fat Consumption History

Our consumption of omega-6s, which help to lower blood cholesterol, has increased considerably in the last 20 or 30 years due partly to the widespread introduction and intake of polyunsaturated spreads and use of cooking oils. Sunflower and corn oils are rich sources, for example. However, consumption of omega-3s has remained fairly stable. 

Omega 3 Fatty Acids

Fatty acids vary in their carbon chain length, but very long chain omega-3s (particularly eicosapentaenoic (EPA) and docosahexaenoic (DHA) acids) are also important in brain structure and function. Although these can be made in the body from shorter chain omega-3s (e.g. from plant origin) the conversion is not very efficient and varies considerably between individuals.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids Health Benefits

Omega-3 fatty acids lower triglycerides and may improve the health of your blood vessels, reducing the risk of primary and secondary heart attacks. People with certain circulatory problems, such as varicose veins, benefit from fish oil.

Omega-3 fatty acids lower triglycerides and may improve the health of your blood vessels, reducing the risk of primary and secondary heart attacks. People with certain circulatory problems, such as varicose veins, benefit from fish oil. Fish oil stimulates blood circulation, increases the breakdown of fibrin, a compound involved in clot and scar formation, and additionally has been shown to reduce blood pressure.

Omega-3 fatty acids lower triglycerides and may improve the health of your blood vessels, reducing the risk of primary and secondary heart attacks. People with certain circulatory problems, such as varicose veins, benefit from fish oil. Fish oil stimulates blood circulation, increases the breakdown of fibrin, a compound involved in clot and scar formation, and additionally has been shown to reduce blood pressure. Omega-3 fatty acids lower triglycerides and may improve the health of your blood vessels, reducing the risk of primary and secondary heart attacks. People with certain circulatory problems, such as varicose veins, benefit from fish oil.

Omega-3 fatty acids lower triglycerides and may improve the health of your blood vessels, reducing the risk of primary and secondary heart attacks. People with certain circulatory problems, such as varicose veins, benefit from fish oil.

Omega-3 fatty acids lower triglycerides and may improve the health of your blood vessels, reducing the risk of primary and secondary heart attacks. People with certain circulatory problems, such as varicose veins, benefit from fish oil.

Early clues as to possible benefits came from studies on traditional Greenland Eskimos who, despite having high fat diets, had low incidence of heart disease. Closer inspection revealed that the fat in their diet was largely 'marine' i.e. from marine mammals (such as seals and walrus) and oily fish. This marine fat is high in omega-3s, which we now know have strong anti-blood clotting properties and help to guard against clots which can precipitate heart attacks and strokes.

Further research has also revealed that they can help to keep the heart beat regular and reduce risk of 'arrhythmias' which can sometimes escalate into heart attacks, particularly in middle and old age.

FDA Supports Omega-3 Health Benefits for CHD
On September 8, 2004, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration gave "qualified health claim" status to eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) n−3 fatty acids, stating that "supportive but not conclusive research shows that consumption of EPA and DHA [n−3] fatty acids may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease (CHD)."
Omega-3 Fatty Acids Health Studies
There are also several studies suggesting many other health benefits associated with the increased consumption of Omega-3 fatty acids, such as reducing the risk or improving the following health conditions:
  • Cardiac arrhythmias
  • Ischemic and thrombotic stroke. Note: very large amounts may actually increase the risk of hemorrhagic stroke, lower amounts are not related to this risk.
  • Childhood learning and behavioral problems
  • High LDL cholesterol
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Dementia
  • Parkinson's disease
  • Alzheimer's disease
Omega-3s may also have benefits in ameliorating symptoms in some 'inflammatory' disorders such as:
  • inflammatory bowel disease
  • asthma
  • eczema and
  • rheumatoid arthritis

Incidence of these is lower in high fish-eating populations but, again, further research is needed to confirm or deny any links.

A 2006 report in the Journal of the American Medical Association concluded that their review of literature covering cohorts from many countries with a wide variety of demographic characteristics demonstrating a link between n−3 fatty acids and cancer prevention gave mixed results. This is similar to the findings of a review by the British Medical Journal of studies up to February 2002 that failed to find clear effects of long and shorter chain n−3 fats on total mortality, combined cardiovascular events and cancer.

In 1999, the GISSI-Prevenzione Investigators reported in the Lancet, the results of major clinical study in 11,324 patients with a recent myocardial infarction. Treatment 1 gram per day of n−3 fatty acids reduced the occurrence of death, cardiovascular death and sudden cardiac death by 20%, 30% and 45% respectively. These beneficial effects were seen already from three months onwards.

In 2006 the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition and JAMA reported that decreases in total mortality and cardiovascular incidents (i.e. myocardial infarctions) associated with the regular consumption of fish and fish oil supplements.

In the March 2007 edition of the journal Atherosclerosis, 81 Japanese men with unhealthy blood sugar levels were randomly assigned to receive 1800 mg daily of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA - an n−3 essential fatty acid from fish oil) with the other half being a control group. The thickness of the carotid arteries and certain measures of blood flow were measured before and after supplementation. This went on for approximately two years. A total of 60 patients (30 in the EPA group and 30 in the control group) completed the study. Those given the EPA had a statistically significant decrease in the thickness of the carotid arteries along with improvement in blood flow. The authors indicated that this was the first demonstration that administration of purified EPA improves the thickness of carotid arteries along with improving blood flow in patients with unhealthy blood sugar levels.

In another study published in the American Journal of Health System Pharmacy March 2007, patients with high triglycerides and poor coronary artery health were given 4 grams a day of a combination of EPA and DHA along with some monounsaturated fatty acids. Those patients with very unhealthy triglyceride levels (above 500 mg/dl) reduced their triglycerides on average 45% and their VLDL cholesterol by more than 50%. VLDL is a bad type of cholesterol and elevated triglycerides can also be deleterious for cardiovascular health.

There was another study published on the benefits of EPA in The Lancet in March 2007. This study involved over 18,000 patients with unhealthy cholesterol levels. The patients were randomly assigned to receive either 1,800 mg a day of EPA with a statin drug or a statin drug alone. The trial went on for a total of five years. It was found at the end of the study those patients in the EPA group had superior cardiovascular function. Non-fatal coronary events were also significantly reduced in the EPA group. The authors concluded that EPA is a promising treatment for prevention of major coronary events, especially non-fatal coronary events.

Another study regarding fish oil was published in the Journal of Nutrition in April 2007. Sixty four healthy Danish infants from nine to twelve months of age received either cow's milk or infant formula alone or with fish oil. It was found that those infants supplemented with fish oil had improvement in immune function maturation with no apparent reduction in immune activation.

There was yet another study on n−3 fatty acids published in the April 2007 Journal of NeuroScience. A group of mice were genetically modified to develop accumulation of amyloid and tau proteins in the brain similar to that seen in people with poor memory. The mice were divided into four groups with one group receiving a typical American diet (with high ratio of n−6 to n−3 fatty acids being 10 to 1). The other three groups were given food with a balanced 1 to 1 n−6 to n−3 ratio and two additional groups supplemented with DHA plus long chain n−6 fatty acids. After three months of feeding, all the DHA supplemented groups were noted to have a lower accumulation of beta amyloid and tau protein. Some research suggests that these abnormal proteins may contribute to the development of memory loss in later years.

In April 2007 there was a study published in the Journal of the Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics regarding n−3 supplementation in children with learning and behavioral problems. 132 children, between the ages of seven to twelve years old, with poor learning, participated in a randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blinded interventional trial. A total of 104 children completed the trial. For the first fifteen weeks of this study, the children were given polyunsaturated fatty acids (n−3 and n−6, 3000 mg a day), polyunsaturated fatty acids plus multi-vitamins and minerals or placebo. After fifteen weeks, all groups crossed over to the polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) plus vitamins and mineral supplement. Parents were asked to rate their children's condition after fifteen and thirty weeks. After thirty weeks, parental ratings of behavior improved significantly in nine out of fourteen scales. The lead author of the study, Dr. Sinn, indicated the present study is the largest PUFA trial to date with children falling in the poor learning and focus range. The results support those of other studies that have found improvement in poor developmental health with essential fatty acid supplementation.

[Research in 2005 and 2006 has suggested that the in-vitro anti-inflammatory activity of n−3 acids translates into clinical benefits. Cohorts of neck pain patients and of rheumatoid arthritis sufferers have demonstrated benefits comparable to those receiving standard NSAIDs.

A study examining whether omega-3 exerts neuroprotective action in Parkinson's disease found that it did, using an experimental model, exhibit a protective effect (much like it did for Alzheimer's disease as well). The scientists exposed mice to either a control or a high omega-3 diet from two to twelve months of age and then treated them with a neurotoxin commonly used as an experimental model for Parkinson's. The scientists found that high doses of omega-3 given to the experimental group completely prevented the neurotoxin-induced decrease of dopamine that ordinarily occurs. Since Parkinson's is a disease caused by disruption of the dopamine system, this protective effect exhibited could show promise for future research in the prevention of Parkinson's disease.

A study carried out involving 465 women showed serum levels of eicosapentaenoic acid is inversely related to the levels of anti-oxidized-LDL antibodies. Oxidative modification of LDL is thought to play an important role in the development of atherosclerosis.

In 2008 a German study suggested that Omega-3 fatty acids have a positive effect on atopic dermatitis.

Upping Your Omega 3's Through Eating

Good sources are some nuts and seeds and oily fish, such as sardines, mackerel, herring, salmon, trout and fresh tuna (canned tuna has lost most of its fish oil in processing). So women in pregnancy are recommended to eat one or two portions of oily fish per week (apart from shark, swordfish and marlin) and other adults up to four.

Using a Mediterranean Approach

If you do not want to eat like a eskimo; there are other alternatives. There are several studies pointing to thse benefits through a "Mediterranean diet.". The Mediterranean diet is a heart-healthy eating plan combining elements of Mediterranean-style cooking. The Mediterranean diet incorporates the basics of healthy eating — plus a splash of flavorful olive oil and perhaps a glass of red wine — among other components characterizing the traditional cooking style of countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea.
The Mediterranean diet is thought to reduce your risk of heart disease. In fact, a 2007 study conducted in the United States found that both men and women who consumed a Mediterranean diet lowered their risk of death from both heart disease and cancer.

Key components of the Mediterranean diet include:

  • Eating a generous amount of fruits and vegetables
  • Consuming healthy fats such as olive oil and canola oil
  • Limiting saturated fats and hydrogenated oils (trans-fatty acids), both of which contribute to heart disease
  • Eating small portions of nuts
  • Drinking red wine, in moderation, for some
  • Consuming very little red meat
  • Eating fish on a regular basis

The focus of the Mediterranean diet isn't to limit total fat consumption, but to make wise choices about the types of fat you eat.

Key components of the Mediterranean diet include:

  • Eating a generous amount of fruits and vegetables
  • Consuming healthy fats such as olive oil and canola oil
  • Limiting saturated fats and hydrogenated oils (trans-fatty acids), both of which contribute to heart disease
  • Eating small portions of nuts
  • Drinking red wine, in moderation, for some
  • Consuming very little red meat
  • Eating fish on a regular basis

The focus of the Mediterranean diet isn't to limit total fat consumption, but to make wise choices about the types of fat you eat.

  • Choosing healthy monounsaturated fats, such as olive oil, and polyunsaturated fats, which contain the beneficial linolenic acid (a type of omega-3 fatty acid).
  • These fat sources include canola oil and nuts, particularly walnuts. Fish — another source of omega-3 fatty acids — is eaten on a regular basis in the Mediterranean diet.

Choosing Oils and Fats

  • Olive oil. All types of olive oil provide monounsaturated fat — a type of fat that can help reduce LDL cholesterol levels when used in place of saturated or trans fats. "Extra-virgin" and "virgin" olive oils are the least processed forms, meaning they contain the highest levels of the protective plant compounds that provide antioxidant effects.
  • Flax oil. Flax oil, although not really emphasized in the Mediterranean diet is astually a great source of good fats. It is six times richer than most fish oils in omega-3s its oil are perhaps the most widely available botanical source of Omega-3s, consisting of 55% ALA (alpha-linolenic acid). Flax, contains approximately three times as much Omega-3s as Omega-6. 15 grams of flaxseed oil provides 8 grams of ALA, which is converted in the body to EPA and then DHA at an efficiency of 2–15% and 2–5%, respectively

Table 1. Omega 3 content as the percentage of ALA in the seed oil.

Common nameAlternate nameLinnaean name% Omega−3
Chia chia sage Salvia hispanica 64
Kiwifruit Chinese gooseberry Actinidia chinensis 62
Perilla shiso Perilla frutescens 58
Flax linseed Linum usitatissimum 55
Lingonberry Cowberry Vaccinium vitis-idaea 49
Camelina Gold-of-pleasure Camelina sativa 36
Purslane Portulaca Portulaca oleracea 35
Black Raspberry Rubus occidentalis 33

Source: Seed Oil Fatty Acids - SOFA Database Retrieval

  • Nuts. Nuts may be high in fat (80 percent of their calories come from fat), but tree nuts, including walnuts, pecans, almonds and hazel nuts, are low in saturated fat. 

Table 2. Omega−3 content as the percentage of ALA in the whole food.

Common nameLinnaean name% Omega−3
Flaxseed Linum usitatissimum 18.1
Butternuts Juglans cinerea 8.7
Walnuts Juglans regia 6.3
Pecan nuts Carya illinoinensis 0.6
Hazel nuts Corylus avellana 0.1

Sources:

  1. DeFilippis, Andrew P.; Laurence S. Sperling. Understanding omega-3's. Retrieved on 21 October 2007.
  2. ^ Wilkinson, Jennifer. Nut Grower's Guide: The Complete Handbook for Porducers and Hobbyists. Retrieved on 21 October 2007.
 
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