F is for fatty acid part 3! EPA for the win!

Fresh off the super fun talk I gave this past Thursday to the lovely BC employees of wholefoods, on omega-3s; I shall as promised, finally deliver the 3rd part of our discussion about all things fatty acid.

get it in ya!

get it in ya!

One of the points I really wanted to emphasize with the whole foods crew is that there are specific instances when we want more EPA and those during which we need more DHA instead.  Just like we talked about omega-6s and omega-3s competing for cellular absorption in part 2 of F is for fatty acid, so too do EPA and DHA compete with each other for incorporation, metabolism and use through-out the body.

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The clinical benefits of daily fish oil

Omega-3s are one of THE most researched topics in medicine.  Close to 2000 papers are published per year and currently there are about 20,000 research articles on the health benefits of omega-3s.

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Geeks love omega-3s

Omega-3 fatty acids biggest claim to fame is heart health and prevention of cardiovascular disease. It all started in Greenland, where eskimos paradoxically were living longer and had lower risks of heart disease despite consuming diets that were ridiculously high in fat.  Dr Dyerberg (considered by many to be the father of omega-3s) traveled to Greenland and discovered that their high fat diets weren’t made up of the usual fats, but were very high in omega-3 long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids, and so the era of studying the health effects of omega-3s began.

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The health effects of omega-3s:

Fish oil modifies a number of risk factors for cardiovascular disease, including blood pressure, blood clotting, triglyceride (blood fat) concentrations, irregular heart beats, heart rate and blood vessel health. Because of this,  increased intake of omega-3s is associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular morbidity and mortality and supplementation in at-risk patients also reduces mortality.

As mentioned in fatty acids part 2, omega-3s are awesomely anti-inflammatory. They are beneficial in any disease with an inflammatory component, such as pain, arthritis, inflammatory bowel diseases, psoriasis, eczema, lupus, asthma, and basically any condition that ends in “itis”, as that means inflammation. In fact I challenge you to google any condition, especially an inflammatory one + omega-3 or fish oil and I guarantee you’ll get multiple hits.

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Research also suggests that omega-3 fatty acids improve immune function,  boost metabolism and improve body composition, which can help overweight or obese people achieve weight loss.

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Omega-3s have been shown to help maintain bone mass and therefore help in the prevention of osteoporosis or loss of bone density and are very involved in visual development so they can help to improve eye health.

Because omega-3 fatty acids comprise a large part of the fats in the brain, they help to improve brain health and learning processes, which therefore make them valuable in infant and childhood learning, as well as behavioral or attention issues.  They also decrease the inflammation associated with an aging brain making them great for prevention of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and memory decline.

Finally, research suggests that omega-3s can help to stabilize mood imbalances, which is helpful in depression, anxiety, and hostility/aggression.

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Lets talk about each of these effects in more detail and specifically address which conditions EPA is of benefit, and which ones require DHA.

EPA

EPA is the best choice for any condition modulated by, or due to inflammation.  The anti-inflammatory actions of omega-3 fatty acids are mainly attributed to EPA.

When inflammation becomes chronic is destroys healthy cells and tissues in our bodies contributing to a great deal of diseases such as:

  • cardiovascular disease
  • cancer
  • allergies
  • asthma
  • eczema
  • depression
  • bipolar disorder
  • obesity 
  • arthritis and joint pain
  • ulcerative colitis
  • crohns disease and others

One of the conditions newly thought to be due to inflammation is depression.

  • In the past the etiology of depression was widely assumed to be due to serotonergic dysfunctions.  However, the current theories that rely solely on serotonin function and cortisol hypersecretion are insufficient. 
  • More then half of depressed individuals with depression relapse despite conventional management with anti-depressants. 

One of the new hypotheses for depression etiology is inflammation and several studies have been done to assess the inflammatory hypothesis of depression. 

  • Depressed patients have higher levels of inflammatory cytokines and when exogenous inflammatory molecules are administered they induce a depressed state. 
  • Chronic inflammation generates what is known as sickness behavior and signs and symptoms match those of depression almost completely.
  • Depression has been described as the “brain on fire”
  • Research reveals that EPA is actually the main effective component in omega-3 treatment of depression
  • Several meta-analysis have discovered that a ratio of at least 3:1 of EPA to DHA is required for anti-depressant effectiveness.

Inflammation is also a common factor in brain disorders, including attention deficit disorder.

You can’t feel brain inflammation the way you can feel an inflamed finger from a splinter or an arthritic joint, however, brain inflammation when present can generate a foggymind, difficulty concentrating, and an inability to focus.

An excellent way to control inflammation in the brain is to maintain high levels of EPA in the blood through the consumption of a high EPA omega-3 product

Finally,

EPA is of GREAT benefit to athletes and those looking to loose weight. EPA improves body composition by accelerating fat loss and increasing muscle growth and strength; this can have important implications for athletic performance. When EPA is consumed it promotes recovery from exercise by reducing exercise-induced inflammation and soreness while also improving heart efficiency and lung function.

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Next week we’ll tackle the clinical indications of DHA and GLA 🙂

If you’d like to know specifically how omega-3s modulate joint pain and arthritis, how they can generate weight loss or how they reduce and improve symptoms of colitis, IBS or poor memory, comment on the post and I’ll reply!

Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)

Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)

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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.