Changing Fats Before a Destructive Change
For decades there was no universal agreement on the correlation between diet and disease among nutritional, medical, and governmental health officials. However, as heart disease has been and is still the nation’s number one cause of death, researchers have sought to identify controllable risk factors. After several decades, the correlation between diet and the manifestation of heart disease has been clearly documented and well defined—other identified risk factors include genetic, gender, and ethnic factors.
In a recent study presented by the Harvard School of Public Health, a diet with non-hydrogenated, unsaturated fats (EFAs) as the predominant source of fat was shown to reduce the risk of developing heart disease significantly. The primary source of EFA cited by these researchers was omega-3 fatty acids. Based on groundbreaking studies from the 1960s to the present, there is now scientific consensus that the Standard American Diet (SAD) often lacks sufficient amounts of the above-mentioned EFAs. Diets lacking in EFAs are now definitively linked to the development of heart disease and some degenerative diseases.
The lowdown on EFAs
The acronym EFA is used to describe the lipids known as essential fatty acids. These fats are considered essential, meaning they can’t be manufactured by the body, and thus need to be supplied via the diet or supplementation. There are two primary classes of fatty acids: omega-3s and omega-6s.
The major fatty acids found in omega-3s are alpha-linoleic acid (ALA) and its metabolites eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Two of the main omega-6s are linoleic acid and its metabolite, gammalinoleic acid (GLA).
Essential fatty acids are found and extracted as refined oils—they come mainly from plants and fish. These oils occur in a number of different natural sources: flaxseeds are rich in ALA, borage oil is an abundant source of GLA, and fish oils are the predominant source of EPA and DHA.
When these oils are consumed they are broken down into prostaglandins (hormone-like substances) that regulate a variety of physiological processes that are heart protective. This is in direct contrast to saturated fats and trans fats, which are known to accelerate the incubation period and the pathogenic alteration of coronary arteries. This was alluded to at the beginning of the article by Emanuel Cheraskin, MD, DMD, the late pioneer in the application and administration of nutritional medicine.
The omega miracle
After decades of research following early reports by two Danish scientists in 1978, it is now a widely-known fact that omega fish oils—EPA and DHA—reduce the risk of developing heart disease. These scientists found that Greenland Eskimos had less coronary heart disease than Americans, Europeans, and even contemporary Japanese despite existing on a diet primarily composed of fatty fish. After years of cumulative data and scores of clinical trials, in 2002 the American Heart Association released a scientific statement citing omega-3 fatty acids as being beneficial in protecting healthy individuals against heart disease, as well as those at high risk and those individuals already battling heart disease.
It is now universally accepted that omega-3 fish oils reduce elevated cholesterol levels, have powerful anti-inflammatory properties, and play an important role in brain development. Their ability to help normalize blood sugar, manage diabetes, and offer relief to individuals suffering with osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis have also been well documented. The scientific literature supporting the use of EFAs—and specifically omega-3 fatty acids—is overwhelming. The following synopsis outlines some of those findings.
In the fall 2008 Journal of Cardiometabolic Syndrome, researchers reported that the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil reduce the risk of coronary heart disease by decreasing triglyceride levels and blood pressure, reducing inflammatory markers, improving endothelial function, preventing cardiac arrhythmias, reducing platelet aggregation and constriction of blood vessels, and helping prevent excess blood clots. They also reduced fibrin formation, and reduced the risk of microalbuminuria (abnormal amounts of protein in the urine) and sudden cardiac death.
In a recent review in Clinical Science, researchers reported data from epidemiological and case-controlled studies showing that omega-3 fatty acids reduce the risk of cardiovascular mortality. These researchers found that these fats decreased the formation of chemoattractants, growth factors, inflammatory eicosanoids (hormone-like substances) and cytokines, and increased nitric oxide production, which improves vasodilation and endothelial relaxation of blood vessels. This has the potential to decrease thrombosis (obstruction of an artery or vein by a blood clot) as well as cardiac arrhythmias (improper pumping of the heart), thus increasing heart rate variability. As a point of reference, heart rate variability is a measure of the beat-to-beat variations in the heart rate.
In a study that followed 85,000 women over a 16-year period, researchers found that increased intake of omega-3 fish oils significantly reduced the risk of developing coronary artery disease and related complications.
The other side of omega-3 fatty acids
While the role of omega-3 fatty acids in preventing heart disease and the other aforementioned disorders has been definitively validated, its role as a cancer preventative agent is gaining national recognition. In fact, emerging scientific data has revealed that it may inhibit proliferation of cancer cells throughout the body.
In the February 2006 International Journal of Biochemical and Cell Biology, researchers noted that in the laboratory, omega-3 fatty acids inhibited the growth of breast cancer cells by regulating genes involved in cellular reproduction.
Additional studies have shown that fish oil supplementation doubled the survival rate of patients with advanced cancer of the breast, colon, lungs, and pancreas. Furthermore, many well-controlled studies have validated omega-3 fatty acid’s ability to improve neurological function and protect brain molecules from toxicity. Its role in preventing Alzheimer’s diseases and dementia, and promoting optimal brain function at all age levels has now been corroborated globally.
Finally, there is evidence that EPA and DHA play a role in minimizing multiple sclerosis disturbances. This debilitating disorder is characterized by a progressive down-regulation of the nervous system in which the myelin sheath that covers the nerves is destroyed. Deficiencies of omega-3 fatty acids have been linked to this malady, as they are involved in the normal formation of myelin.
A new source
Omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA) are primarily extracted from cold-water fish, plants, and flaxseed oils. There is emerging evidence that the omega-3 fatty acids found in Neptune Krill Oil (NKO) also provide similar benefits to the omega-3 fatty acids found in various fish. From the pristine Antarctic waters, krill is considered the world’s largest animal biomass with an estimated 500 million tons of krill habituating the southern seas. These shrimp-like crustaceans are rich in three phospholipids—phosphatidylcholine,
phosphatidylinositol, and phosphatidylethanolamine—all of which contain high amounts of EPA and DHA. The sea algae that krill consumes gives it and other crustaceans, like lobster and shrimp, their reddish-pink color.
Reacting to C-reactive protein
One of the key things that has excited researchers about the omega-3 fatty acids found in NKO is its ability to lower C-reactive protein levels, thus inhibiting inflammatory reactions. Elevated C-reactive protein levels today are used as a biomarker of the possible existence of breast cancer, heart disease, and rheumatoid arthritis, as well as colorectal and ovarian cancer. C-reactive protein appears in high quantities in the blood when there is systemic inflammation within the body.
The consensus today by health officials is that elevated C-reactive protein levels are a stronger indicator of the presence of heart disease than elevated cholesterol levels.
The other area that has prompted further research concerning the health benefits of NKO is the presence of high concentrations of the antioxidant astaxanthin. Astaxanthin (pronounced as-tuh-zan-thin) is a red pigment found naturally in a variety of carotenoids (fat-soluble pigments found in plants and algae). They are responsible for the bright reds, oranges, and yellows in plant leaves, fruits, flowers, vegetables—like carrots, pumpkins, and red and yellow peppers—insects, some birds, fish, and crustaceans. Emerging data concerning carotenoids and their health benefits as powerful antioxidants have been widely publicized recently. (Antioxidants help to neutralize the production of free radicals that can damage your cells, your DNA, cause cancer, and accelerate aging.)
A series of recent studies by Canadian researchers found that krill oil was very effective at lowering LDL cholesterol levels, while raising HDL up to 44 percent in some cases. In a current study appearing in Alternative Medicine Review, investigators reported that in a group of 120 participants given NKO, fish oil, or a placebo, krill oil reduced LDL cholesterol by 34 percent and raised HDL cholesterol by 13.5 percent, as compared to 4.6 percent and 4.2 percent in respective categories by omega-3 fish oil.
These researchers also reported that 1,500 mg of NKO was more effective at reducing cholesterol levels than 3,000 mg of omega fish oils. However, the most impressive aspect of this study was that after more than three months on a maintenance dose of 500 mg of
NKO twice daily, total cholesterol levels dropped by 19 percent. The continued use of NKO at 500 mg/day further reduced LDL cholesterol by 44 percent and triglycerides by 25 percent while HDL levels went up 33 percent. The researchers here concluded that NKO’s rich source of phospholipids, especially astaxanthin, was responsible for these medicinal benefits.
Suggested dose: Based on current research 1 to 1.5 grams of omega-3 fish oil should be taken daily. Emerging data also suggests similar daily intake levels of NKO.
A word of caution: If you are taking blood thinners like Coumadin you should consult with your healthcare provider before starting a regimen of omega-3 fish oil and/or NKO supplementation, as these supplements have natural blood thinning capabilities.
Based on data accumulated over the last several decades, omega-3 fatty acids play a key role in reducing and reversing many of the negative variables associated with the development of heart disease. There also are now conclusive data validating the multifaceted preventive and health-restorative aspects of these fats.
Science has presented the health practitioner with a viable option to prevent, treat, and eliminate pathogenic alterations in a myriad of disorders before they cause alterations in normal metabolic processes. As the data concerning omega-3 fish oil is undisputable, health officials are looking at additional sources and ways to make sure these fats become the predominant sources of fat here in the US.
George L Redmond, PhD, ND, is a graduate of the Clayton College of Natural Health (ND), the American Holistic College of Nutrition (PhD) and received a PhD in Administration and Management from Walden University. For 20 years he has specialized in vitamins and holistic healthcare and he has served as a regional and national education director for one of the largest retailers of vitamins in the United States. He is a popular guest on many syndicated radio health programs and his articles have appeared in numerous magazines.