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Home Surprises Omega-3 : Miracle Or Monster?

Omega-3 : Miracle Or Monster?

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Omega-3s are all the rage these days.  Doctors and nutritionists left and right are encouraging everyone to make sure they are getting plenty of omega-3 fats.  Advertisers are touting how much omega-3 oils are in their products.  Krill oil and fish oils are being sold by the tons because they contain omega-3 oils.  Flax seed is being introduced into many diets for the express purpose of getting more omega-3 fats.

Hold on a minute!  What are omega-3 fats?  Why do we need them?  Do we need more than we already have?  Why do so many people seem to be healthy without gobbling omega-3 fats?  What problems might too many omega-3 fats cause in the human body?  What does the science say?  How is the science interpreted?  Is it good science?

Omega-3 fatty acids are a family of unsaturated fatty acids with a double carbon bond in the third bond from the methyl end of the fatty acid.  ALA, EPA, and DHA are the particular versions that are mostly talked about.  These are all polyunsaturated fats.

We are told that omega-3 fatty acids are "essential" nutrients for the human body.  Why are they called "essential"?  Because the body can't make them from nothing.  But does that definition actually mean that they are essential to the human body?

It was 1929 when George and Mildred Burr published a paper claiming that unsaturated fats were essential in preventing a particular disease that involved dandruff, dermatitis, slow growth, sterility, and fatal kidney degeneration.  This is still a major study pointed at today to bolster the claim that fatty acids are "essential".

In 1929 there was a lot we didn't know about nutrition.  For instance, B vitamins and trace minerals that were then unknown, eliminate all of the problems that they claimed the fatty acids were essential for (Burr's disease).

What really happens when "essential fatty acids" are deficient in an otherwise healthy diet?

  • Metabolism rate increases.
  • Nutritional needs are increased.
  • Resistance to most common causes of disease and death increases.
  • Resistance to aging, dementia, autoimmunity, and inflammation increases.
  • Rates of diabetes and cancer decrease.

Well, that doesn't sound so bad.  In fact it sounds pretty good!

What happens when "essential fatty acids" are increased in a diet?

  • More estrogen is produced.
  • Sterility increases.
  • Thyroid is suppressed
  • Metabolism decreases (Obesity increases.)
  • Inflammation increases, along with dementia, autoimmunity, and other aging processes.
  • Chance of diabetes and cancer increase

In fact, polyunsaturated fats are "essential" for the growth of cancer.

Interestingly one of the best ways to turn around these debilitating problems caused by polyunsaturated fats is to use butter, and coconut oils (saturated fats).

Once all these problems with polyunsaturated oils became obvious, instead of eliminating these oils from our diets, we were told that the omega-3 versions of these oils will counteract all the negatives of the omega-6 versions of these oils.  Lets assume for a moment that this is true. (We will show later, that it is not.)

If the body really needs these oils, how much does it need.  Well, it turns out that simply eating a healthy diet that contains omega-3 fatty acids (found in many natural foods) does just as well in tests as supplementing.  In other words, even if you accept the notion that you need these fats, you don't need very many, and taking lots of them doesn't really help.  In fact, it turns out that your body can create omega-3 oils if it needs them, even if you don't eat any (as long as you are eating an otherwise healthy diet).  So much for being "essential".

What about all the reports that claim health benefits from fatty acid supplementation?  If you actually look them up, you find out that the 'benefits' in most cases are actually quite small and insignificant.  You also notice that all the benefits that do occur are claimed to be because of omega-3 fatty acids, however the substances used in the research contain other important nutrients.  For instance fish oil generally contains around 30% omega-3 fatty acids and 70% omega-9 fatty acids.  So why isn't omega-9 given the credit?  Also fish oil is high in Vitamin A, which actually has been shown to be an essential nutrient.  Why doesn't Vitamin A get the credit?

Much has been made of the Eskimo diet and it's benefits, claiming that omega-3 fats are the reasons for the benefits.  This is just silly.  Not one Eskimo ever ate a diet of omega-3 fats.  Whoever started this belief evidently didn't know much about Eskimos and their diet.  Eskimos eat pretty much the whole animal (other than the fur) when they catch one, not just it's fat.  They also eat a lot of roots.

The other problem with omega-3 oils is that they are very fragile, they oxidize quickly and easily, causing free radicals.  That is why most supplements formulated for omega-3 intake also contain large amounts of antioxidants.  The antioxidants are needed to counteract the toxicity of the omega-3s.  Why take them?  Let the antioxidants you eat help in the body, not just fight off some other supplement you took.

I was going to go through more of the studies with you, but this post has covered the important points.  I will include links below for those interested in learning more about what I have said above.

http://raypeat.com/articles/articles/unsaturatedfats.shtml The essentiality of unsaturated fatty acids.

"The essential fatty acids: Suppress metabolism and promote obesity; are immunosuppressive; cause inflammation and shock; are required for alcoholic liver cirrhosis; sensitize to radiation damage; accelerate formation of aging pigment, cataracts, retinal degeneration; promote free radical damage and excitoxicity; cause cancer and accelerate its growth; are toxic to the heart muscle and promote atherosclerosis; can cause brain edema, diabetes, excessive vascular permeability, precocious puberty, progesterone deficiency...."  http://raypeat.com/articles/articles/membranes.shtml

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17622261 Note how this study shows that the amount of fatty acids eaten does not strongly correlate with the levels in the body.  If your body ever determines that it needs these fatty acids it can create them from other things that you are eating.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19628101 This study shows that omega-3 does not oppose omega-6 as has been claimed, at least in regard to inflammation.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21034880 This study was recently touted as showing that omega-3 oils help fight gum disease.  Note that this study was based on 24 hours of food intake. (Does gum disease occur in 24 hours?) Note also that supplementation with omega-3s made no difference at all.  Just eat healthy foods and your body will do what needs to be done.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 23 November 2010 13:42  

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