F is for fatty acid part 4: DHA, the membrane fat!

H to the izz-O,   D to the HA.  That’s the anthem get’cha damn hands up!

I’d like to introduce you to the super cool and fabulous fatty acid, DHA. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) has an amazingly complex structure and because of this; very significantly alters the physiology of the body.  DHA is the longest and most unsaturated omega-3 fatty acid and has several different applications compared to EPA.

DHA

DHA

DHA has an extremely kinky chain and is the omega-3 with the most double bonds lending to its special role in dynamic, fast-acting cells.

Dynamic quick acting muscles like the flight muscles in hummingbirds have extremely high levels of DHA but not their leg muscles while

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Pretty flutter wings full of DHA

the muscles found in the rattle of a rattle snake are very high in DHA whereas the stomach muscle has very little.

DHA containing rattle

Rattle containing DHA

Areas of the body with high DHA content

DHA is found in its highest concentrations in the membranes of brain cells, our eyes, sperm, and the heart, making it the fatty acid for neural health, cardiovascular health and issues surrounding fertility and birth

Areas of the body that benefit most from D to the HA

Areas of the body that benefit most from DHA

DHA’s ability to flip-flop between hundreds of different shapes, billions of times per second, enables nerve cells to send their rapid signals, allows the heart to contract and integrate its beat and permits the eye to see and interpret the world around us.

DHA is of most benefit in:

            1. Heart health
            2. Neural health and cognition
            3. Pregnancy and child development

DHA for heart health

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in North America. Several studies support the use of omega-3 fatty acids in heart disease.  The heart health benefits of fish oils are so well supported in the literature that even health canada has approved claims for DHA and EPA in support of heart health.

http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/dhp-mps/prodnatur/applications/licen-prod/monograph/mono_fish_oil_huile_poisson-eng.php

DHA + EPA are great for the heart!

DHA + EPA are great for the heart!

DHA is found in large concentrations in the heart (more so then EPA).  Specifically, the kinky and flexible DHA is very involved in proper membrane function in the heart and regulates heart rate by modulating how and when potassium and sodium ions cross the cardiac membrane.  Thousands of studies have been done to assess the heart health benefits of omega-3s and research has revealed that DHA combined with EPA effectively decreases triglycerides, raise good (HDL) cholesterol, lower heart rate, prevent arrhythmias, and decrease blood pressure. All of these effects are extremely beneficial for the heart.  Studies have even shown that omega-3 supplementation with statin administration lowers cholesterol and reduces negative effects better then statins alone!

Most importantly adequate levels of DHA and EPA have been shown to prevent and reduce the risk of heart attack, stroke, ischemic event, atherosclerosis and death from a cardiac event.

DHA for cognitive health

The human brain is 90% fat and a good 30-50% of those are omega-3s. In fact, it has been speculated that the development of the large human brain and our evolution as human race depended on early man consuming a rich source of DHA.  The availability of DHA is literally a limiting factor in the evolution of the brain and research suggests that high levels of DHA optimize neural function.  Clinical research has demonstrated that DHA supplementation is effective for preventing cognitive decline in early stage memory decline and supplementation throughout adulthood with a high DHA formula has a positive effect on the prevention of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.  Adequate levels of omega-3 reduce risk of dementia by as much as 67%.  DHA also enhances cognition in healthy adults and teens as well.  It has been shown to improve reaction time, concentration, memory and possibly sudoku skillz? (j j/k).

DHA is prevents dementia

DHA is prevents dementia

DHA for pregnancy and fetal health

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DHA supplementation is required during pregnancy

Adequate levels of omega-3 are associated with enhanced fertility.  They reduce the risk of miscarriage and have been shown to increase the likelihood of becoming pregnant.

Once pregnant, omega-3 intake during pregnancy and lactation modulate the growth, development, and health of infants. DHA is found in large concentrations in the brain and eyes of mom and her baby too! WIthout DHA, fetal development is severely compromised.  Adequate maternal intakes of DHA are very important for establishing optimal health of infants.  Birth outcomes such as intelligence, eye hand co-ordination and athleticism are enhanced in mothers with higher DHA status.  Adequate DHA during pregnancy also creates a longer gestation time, reduces the risk of preterm birth and leads to higher birth weight and length which reduces the risk of children that are small for gestational age.

Maintaining levels of DHA and EPA during infancy and breast-feeding is just as crucial.  Higher omega-3 intake throughout lactation leads to more mature and favorable behaviors in infants and children, such as: accelerated attentional functions; improved cognitive function; greater visual acuity; and improved immune responses, among other super kid benefits.

Two of the best ways to get DHA are algae oil and calamari oil.  My favorite is Ascenta’s NutraSea DHA.  I think its one of the world’s most sustainable high DHA omega-3s

Summary:

High DHA omega-3 supplements are best for pregnant and lactating women (or women trying to conceive), seniors, individuals looking to maximize brain health and those who are at increased risk for heart disease.

DHA is the best fatty acid for areas where membrane functioning is crucial like the heart, the eye and the brain.

Finally since calamari (in NutraSea DHA) and algae oil (in NutraVeg) are high in DHA and more sustainable then fish, high DHA fish oil is also a great choice for individuals looking to a choose a more sustainable marine source of omega-3.

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F is for fatty acid- part 2

How the heck do fish oils work & what do EFAs do?!?

Once fish oil is consumed and enters the blood it becomes incorporated into every type of cell all over our bodies. Each of these cells have an outer membrane and this outer membrane contains phospholipid fat. Each of these phospholipid molecules contain two fatty acids. Many of these fatty acids are the lovely essential fatty acids we discussed last week. Mainly:  AA, EPA or DGLA.

The cell and its phospholipid plasma membrane

F is for fatty acid….part deux

How do Essential fatty acids work?

There are 4 key concepts which have helped these mean green health helping machines develop their cure all reputation:

1) EFAs are an important part of all cell membranes: Blood cells, immune cells, neurons and neural cells, heart cells etc etc tec. 2) EFAs provide the correct environment for : Membrane fluidity, enzymatic functioning, proteins structure and membrane receptors. 3) EFAs regulate cell signaling, gene expression, cellular function, the immune system and EVERY SINGLE REACTION IN THE BODY! 4) EFAs reduce and resolve inflammation

One of the primary roles EFAs play in the body is immune system regulation and inflammation

1) Important cell membrane component EFAs are critical components in the cellular membranes of many organs. Some of those most affected by EFA imbalance are the brain, the heart, the digestive system and the skin. Once the fatty acids from fish oil make into the tiny membranes found all over our body, they are cleaved/cut out of their membranes so that they can be modified, metabolized and utilized for chemical reactions. After they are cleaved out of the phospholipid membrane and released as free fatty acids,  EFAs are enzymatically metabolized and oxygenated and then further modified to yield hormone like molecules called eicosanoids. The first of these enzymes, Cyclooxygenase (COX) oxidizes and removes two C=C double bonds leading to the thomboxanes, prostaglandins and prostacyclins (TX, PG and PGI). These hormonal signalling molecules then modulate circulation, the thickness of your blood and the release of white blood cells and inflammatory mediators.   The second enzyme: Lipoxygenase (LOX) generates leukotrienes whose main action is to narrow your blood vessles causing vasocontriction.

Arachidonic acid being cut out of a membrane and metabolized

2) Every reaction in all the cells of your body is very dependent on the structure of its outer membrane. How flexible or “fluid” it is, what molecules are sticking out (receptors) and the tags other cells floating around can recognize (like glycation, sulphonation at the like) are what determine the activity of every cell. When a molecule floats by on the outside of a cell it must bind to the outer membrane of the cell in order to initiate changes on the inside of said cell. The proteins the molecule binds to is known as a membrane receptor, and is dependent on a lock and key model. Only a very specific size and shaped molecule (key) which fits perfectly into the receptor protein (lock) can initiate the snow-ball effects inside the cell where changes occur that initiates genetic, messenging and metabolic alterations.  EFAs very profoundly modulate the way the outside of our cellular membranes look. By doing this, EFAs significantly modify the shape of the lock and therefore what type of key will fit in and initiate cellular changes. EFAs modulate:

  1. The fluidity, flexibility and moldability of our cells
  2. The enzymatic reactions that occur inside and outside of our cells
  3. Protein structures and membrane receptors.

3) Genetic alterations Once they alter the structure and functioning of the cellular membrane omega-3s are able to alter intracellular signalling. They modify the genes involved in fat burning, glucose control, neural synpase formation, neurotransmitter release, hormone secretion and modify virtually every reaction in your body from the signal required to initiate a new muscle fiber growth to being able to remember the buy eggs at the grocery store.

Fish oil’s claim to fame! Decreased inflammation

The main benefit of fish oil is a reduction in chronic inflammation giving our cells a break from the overwhelming destructive inflammatory fire that’s been burning on and on due to toxicity, processed diets, environmental exposure and the chemical reactions required to run our beautiful magnificent human bodies.

Remember when I told you that the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 is about 30:1 in our society, well that inappropriate level of omega-6 fats relative to omega-3s generates what is known as chronic inflammation.  The eicosanoids/hormones produced from fish oil are anti-inflammatory, those from omega-6s are inflammatory. Unless our diet is balanced and equal in both fatty acids; inflammation will prevail and become chronic.
Chronic inflammation

When inflammation becomes chronic and is allowed to smolder un-opposed, the immune systems ceases to only fight and attack pathogens and invaders and begins to cause damage and break down to normal tissue. This chronic inflammation inappropriately activates the immune system against self cells and is at the foundation of auto-immune diseases like Rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, Ulcerative colitis, and Psoriasis

Omega-3 are able to prevent and resolve inflammation in 3 ways:

  1. They compete with AA for membrane incorporation
  2. They modify the genes that initiate inflammation
  3. They actively resolve inflammation that’s already occuring

1. One of the principle ways omega-3s reduce inflammation is by directly competing with the omega-6 fatty acid arachidonic acid for membrane incorporation.  EPA then competes for enzymatic activation by several ezymes, namely: COX and LOX enzymes which convert EFAs into prostaglandins (PG2/PG3), thromboxanes (TXA2/TXA3) and leukotrienes (LTK4/5)  EPA then competes for enzymatic activation by COX & LOX enzymes. When eicosapentaenoic acid is metabolized by COX/LOX instead of AA, it produces a very different and much less inflammatory set of molecules then does AA.

  • AA produces the proinflammatory hormone like molecules:  Prostaglandin E(2) and leukotrieneB4–>These are potent molecules that recruit inflammatory cells and contributes greatly to tissue breakdown and the heat of inflammation
  • EPA produces eicosanoids, with a different structure which are less potent and much less inflammatory Prostaglandin E3 and leukotriene B5
2. Omega-3s directly modify the genes associated with inflammation.  Omega-3s turn inflammation off, preventing destruction of your body and allowing it to heal. They reduce a messenger called nuclear factor-κB. This bad boy is activation which decreases the formation of  pro-inflammatory cytokines like IL-1, 6, 8 and TNF alpha from monocytes and macrophages.

3. Finally, Resolution of inflammation has historically been viewed as a passive process, occurring as a result of the withdrawal of pro-inflammatory signals like leukotrienes and prostaglandins.  Research over the last few years has determined that inflammation resolution is an active process. basically meaning the taking your omega-3s inhibits inflammation from starting in the first place and thennnnnnn helps turn off the inflammatory switch if its already been on & burning everything up. Stay tuned next week for part 3 of 3 which deals with which clinical diseases are prevented and treated by the anti-inflammatory essential fatty acids EPA, DHA and DGLA.