Confused about Omega 3s? Read on and ask questions of our food and nutrition expert.

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We at Passionfish are not nutrition scientists but we have heard from the medical establishment for years now that essential fatty acids (EFAs) can help stave off illness and disease.
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I have posed some questions to Christopher Speed. Please read his answers carefully and take heed– or ask more questions below in our comments section. Chris founded Minami Nutrition USA, where he launched a unique supercritical CO2 extracted omega-3 supplement. He has a Master of Human Nutrition and Dietetics from the University of Sydney, continues his academic work as an Associate Editor of the European Journal of Cancer Prevention and is an adjunct Lecturer at New York University Nutrition School.
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Chris was the food and nutrition strategist for Oldways Preservation and Exchange, where he helped increase awareness of the healthfulness of a number of traditional eating patterns which ranged from Asian to Mediterranean diets.
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Christopher Speed


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Chris was the first Global Director of Food and Nutrition Sciences at Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide, where he provided counsel to many food brands, raw ingredient manufacturers and prepared food/quick service restaurants so that they may best navigate the ever-changing nutrition landscape.
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My questions to Chris and his answers are below. Also, to long-time P’fish supporters, you will remember Chris as he was a very engaging panelist at our first multi-stakeholder forum held in San Diego in 2003.
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QUESTION: Tell me about essential fatty acids (EFAs). What are these compounds, where are they found, and why are they considered essential?
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ANSWER: Essential fatty acids are polyunsaturated fats required by all mammals deriving from food. Like vitamins, these are not produced within the body, and must come from the diet. There are omega-6 and omega-3 types of essential fatty acids that compete with each other when metabolized and produce hormones that affect nearly every cell and tissue in the body [1]. The amount eaten of these fats in our diet determines the proportions of them in our body.
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During human evolution there was always abundance in seafood and plant sources of omega-3 fatty acids with very little dietary contribution from omega-6 fatty acids. In modern times the opposite is true, with a higher contribution of energy coming from omega-6 than omega-3, because industrialized agriculture has produced foods that contain higher amounts of omega-6 fat (2-5) with fewer consumers opting for seafood and plant based omega-3’s. This essential fatty acid “imbalance” between omega 6 and omega-3’s is thought to underpin diverse chronic diseases and disorders [6-8].
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QUESTION: EFAs are found in plants and animals. Are there any known differences on human health when EFAs of different origin are added to one’s diet? Pros and cons of flax vs. fish oil, for example.
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ANSWER: Both plant and seafood based EFAs support health and wellness. Plant based omega-3 are called ALA (alpha linoleic acid), whereas seafood omega 3’s are called EPA (eicosapaentanoic acid) and DHA (docosapaentanoic acid). ALA is the essential fatty acid the body can’t make so you need it from food, and the body can then convert ALA to EPA to DHA or you can simply consume preformed EPA and DHA from whole seafood and supplemental sources (9,10).
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QUESTION: The amount of EFAs found in animals varies based on their diet. Is it uniformly true that grass-fed and wild animals have higher levels of omega-3’s than those that are grain-fed?
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ANSWER: Soybean/corn/grain fed animals are likely to have very different fatty acid proportions than do grass-fed animals. The general rule of thumb is that grass-fed meat will most probably have lower levels of omega-6 in their tissue. Chicken and other poultry contain the highest amounts of omega-6 as they tend to produce omega-6 in their own tissue regardless of what they are fed. (11)
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QUESTION: EFA fish oil supplements indicate that their source of omegas may come from cod liver, mixed fish, salmon, etc. Is there significance to the species of fish from which EFAs are extracted?
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ANSWER: Fish like mackerel, herring, anchovies, tuna and salmon are typically higher in the two important marine omega-3’s EPA and DHA than do most other fish. Pollock, krill, squid and algae are new to the omega-3 arena and offer interesting options for the consumer. (12-14)
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QUESTION: EFAs are concentrated and cleaned using various mechanical, molecular, and chemical mechanisms. What bearing does the method of processing and purification of EFAs have?
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ANSWER: The two most common methods of processing and purifying EFAs are via molecular distillation and supercritical CO2 extract. If the manufacturers follow Good Manufacturing Practices, then there is no difference in purity and quality of their oils. (12-15)
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QUESTION: EFA supplements can be found in triglyceride or ethyl ester form, packaged as a liquid, in capsules, and with enteric coatings. What differences in absorption exist between ingestion of these different molecular and physical forms?
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ANSWER: Throughout the fish oil industry, bold marketing statements are being made about the superiority of various marine sources used, such as salmon, cod or anchovy krill because they contain a specific form of omega-3 being used (such as an ethyl ester or triglyceride form). It doesn’t require that much research to conclude that the proof used to support many of these statements is pseudoscience. Very few of these organizations are supporting their aggressive marketing messages with published, clinically proven, peer reviewed research, that has had its methodology and findings critiqued by experts in the field (16). For this reason, independent experts conclude that:
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• at the current time, there is a lack of credible evidence which supports the assertion that the triglyceride form of omega-3 fish oil is, in any clinically significant way, more advantageous or beneficial than the ethyl ester form
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• marketing claims being made about the superiority of the triglyceride form are misleading (particularly as it relates to absorption, utilization, and stability)
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• measurements of absorption and bioavailability of omega-3’s only prevents us from focusing on the critical issue – their clinical outcome in regards to impact on health or health conditions.
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• both ethyl ester or triglyceride forms are both efficacious forms of omega-3 for the general population.
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QUESTION: Advice on when, how much, and at what age EFA supplements should be taken varies. Can you clarify recommended dosage rates, frequency, and whether consuming with food or water is important?
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ANSWER: In reality the best time to consume omega-3 supplements is when you can remember to do so daily and to make it a part of your routine. Omega-3 benefits don’t lie in when you take them, but whether you take them at all and continue to do so throughout your lifetime, because their positive effects take months to years to take full effect. A recent consensus concluded that most Americans need to consume 1,000mg of EPA and DHA per day. It was also agreed that in order to take away the full benefits from omega-3, consumers should be vigilant to lower their current omega-6 intake to optimize tissue levels of omega-3 and reduce the pro-inflammatory effect of omega-6. (17)
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QUESTION: The idea that there is a healthy balance between omega-3 and omega-6 EFAs in the diet is debated among experts. What is the status of the science regarding EFA ratios and how do we find out our Omega blood balance?
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ANSWER: At the turn of the recent millennium industrialized agriculture has produced a single food source, soybean oil, that now delivers 20% of all calories in the typical US diet – contributing 9% of all calories from omega-6 fat, alone (2-5). As a result, this unintended omega-3 and omega-6 imbalance drives hormone effects on nearly every cell and tissue in the human body and influence many aspects of human physiology and pathology (18). Increasingly, science is determining that pro-inflammatory hormones produced from such a high amount of omega-6’s is not safe.
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One study has indicated that greater intakes of an omega-6 from 1960 to 1999 in five countries predicted a 100-fold greater risk of homicide mortality (19). “The increases in world omega-6 consumption over the past century may be considered a very large uncontrolled experiment that may have contributed to increased societal burdens of aggression, depression, and cardiovascular mortality” (19). The list of health problems related to omega-3 deficits with elevated omega-6 has grown to include atherosclerosis, thrombosis (20), arrhythmia, heart attacks, stroke, immune-inflammatory disorders, asthma, arthritis, cancer proliferation (21), obesity (22), psychiatric disorders, depression, suicide, homicide (23,24), oppositional behavior, unproductive workplace behaviors, length of stay in hospitals (25) and annual healthcare claim costs (26,27).
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It is now increasingly understood that actively lowering omega-6 intake must be carefully considered and that alternatives to soybean variants are sought. Additionally increasing omega-3’s among the population through greater seafood intake /supplement usage is important. The worldwide fisheries and aquaculture industries can help increase tissue concentrations of omega-3 on a population level to substantially decrease health care costs by reducing the illnesses that account for the largest burden of disease worldwide.
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QUESTION: The American Pet Products Association (APPA) estimates that 62% of Americans own a pet. Are there health benefits or drawbacks to feeding EFA supplements to domestic dogs, cats, fish, birds, equine, reptiles, and small animals?
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ANSWER: Mammals in particular benefit from omega-3 supplementation. Other species have differing requirements for essential fatty acids and veterinarian support must be sought for each.
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QUESTION: The sustainability of wild fish stocks is a growing global concern. How can one rest assured that fish oil supplement production isn’t contributing to collapse of wild fisheries?
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ANSWER: One way is to become an informed consumer and to make each fish oil supplement manufacturer accountable to sustainability concerns. The Marine Stewardship Council provides an on-pack “trust mark” for companies that wish to contribute to the health of the world’s oceans by recognizing and rewarding sustainable fishing practices. This is a great way to support the choices of people when they buy fish oil based supplements/seafood as you are assured that your brand is working with partners that transform the seafood market to a sustainable basis (28).
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Thank you, Chris!
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Well, P’fish fans, you can see that Chris has provided essential fatty acids for thought. Since he provided references, I am going to place them in the comments section below. After spending the past decade or so on the issue of ocean and seafood sustainability, which includes our own human health as an important consideration, this topic of omegas is of great interest to me and others.
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I am about to take a blood test that measures my ratio of omega 3s vs omega 6s. I will report back here on the results ASAP.
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Please pose questions in our comments section for Chris as I know that health and nutrition are among your top concerns.
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Patti

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1 comment so far

P’fish fans, I’m posting here the footnotes that Chris provided:

1. Wada M, DeLong CJ, Hong YH, Rieke CJ, Song I, Sidhu RS, Yuan C, Warnock M, Schmaier AH, Yokoyama C, Smyth EM, Wilson SJ, FitzGerald GA, Garavito RM, Sui DX, Regan JW, Smith WL: Enzymes and receptors of prostaglandin pathways with arachidonic acid-derived versus eicosapentaenoic acid-derived substrates and products. J Biol Chem 2007, 282(31): 22254–22266.
2. Broadhurst C, Cunnane S, Crawford M. Rift valley lake fish and shellfish provided brain-specific nutrition for early Homo. Br J Nutr 1998; 79:3– 21.
3. Cordain L, Eaton SB, Sebastian A, et al. Origins and evolution of the Western diet: health implications for the 21st century. Am J Clin Nutr 2005; 81:341–54.
4. Simopoulos AP, Koletzko B, Anderson RE, etal. The 1st Congress of the International Society for the Study of Fatty Acids and Lipids (ISSFAL): fatty acids and lipids from cell biology to human disease. J Lipid Res 1994; 35:169 –73.
5. GerriorS, BenteL.NutrientcontentoftheU.S.foodsupply, 1909-1999: a summary report. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, 2002.
6. Culp BR, Lands WEM, Lucchesi BR, Pitt B, Romson J: The effect of dietary supplementation of fish oil on experimental myocardial infarction. Prostaglandins 1980, 20:1021–1031.
7. Lands WEM: Biosynthesis of Prostaglandins. Ann Rev Nutr 1991, 11:41–60.
8. Lands WEM: Functional foods in primary prevention or nutraceuticals in secondary prevention? Current Topics in Nutraceutical Research 2003, 1(2):113–120.
9. O. Ezaki, M. Takahashi, T. Shigematsu, et al., Long-term effects of dietary alpha-linolenic acid from perilla oil on serum fatty acids composition and on the risk factors of coronary heart disease in japanese elderly subjects, J. Nutr. Sci. Vitaminol. (Tokyo) 45 (1999) 759–772.
10. E. Mantzioris, M.J. James, R.A. Gibson, et al., Differences exist in the relationships between dietary linoleic and alpha-linolenic acids and their respective long-chain metabolites, Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 61 (1995) 320–324.
11 Lands B, Lamoreaux E. (2012) Using 3-6 differences in essential fatty acids rather than 3/6 ratios gives useful food balance scores Nutrition & Metabolism 2012, 9:46 doi: 10.1186/1743-7075-9-46
12 Tiegs C., Riha V., Brunner G., Steiner K., “Separation of Multicomponent Mixtures of Fatty Acid Ethyl Esters from Fish Oil by Countercurrent SFE in High Pressure Chemical Engineering” Proceedings of the 3rd International Symposium on High Pressure Chemical Engineering, Zurich, Switzerland, October 7-9; Rohr R. and Trepp Ch. Eds; Elsevier, 1996, pp.291-6.
13 Lembke P. “Production of High Purity n-3 Fatty Acid Ethyl Esters by Process Scale Supercritical Fluid Chromatography” in Supercritical Fluid Chromatography with Packed Columns, Anton K., Berger C. Eds; Chromatographic Science Series Vol.75; Marcel Dekker Inc. 1997, pp.429-43.
14 Breivik H. “Process for decreasing environmental pollutants in an oil or fat, a volatile environmental pollutants decreasing working fluid, a health supplement, and an animal feed product” EP 1523541, Pronova BioPharma Norge AS, 2003.
15http://www.fda.gov/Food/DietarySupplements/GuidanceComplianceRegulatoryInformation/RegulationsLaws/ucm110858.htm
16. Nordøy A., Barstad L., Connor W.E., Hatcher L., “Absorption of the n-3 eicosapentaenoic and docosahexaenoic acids as ethyl esters and triglycerides by humans,” Am J Clin Nutr, 1991 May; 53(5): 1185-90
17 http://www.omega3summit.org/pdf/ConsensusStatements.pdf
18. Lands WEM: Fish, Omega-3 and Human Health. 2nd edition. AOCS Press: Champaign; 2005.
19. Hibbeln JR, Nieminen LR, Lands WE. Increasing homicide rates and linoleic acid consumption among five Western countries, 1961–2000. Lipids 2004;39:1207–13.
21. Lands B: A critique of paradoxes in current advice on dietary lipids. Prog Lipid Res 2008, 47(2):77–106.
22. Alvheim AR, Malde MK, Osei-Hyiaman D, Hong Lin Y, Pawlosky RJ, Madsen L, Kristiansen K, Frøyland L, Hibbeln JR: Dietary Linoleic Acid Elevates Endogenous 2-AG and Anandamide and Induces Obesity. Obesity (Silver Spring) 2012, doi: 10.1038/oby.2012.38. [Epub ahead of print] PubMed PMID: 22334255.
23. SAMUELSSON, B. 1979. Prostaglandins, thromboxanes, and leukotrienes: for-
mation and biological roles. Harvey Lect. 75: 1–40.
24. KULMACZ, R.J. & W.E.M. LANDS. 1997. Peroxide tone in eicosanoid signaling. In Oxidative Stress and Signal Transduction. H.J. Forman & E. Cadenas,
Eds.: 134–156. Chapman & Hall. New York.
25. ROME, L.H. & W.E.M. LANDS. 1975. Structural requirements for time-dependent inhibition of prostaglandin biosynthesis by anti-inflammatory drugs.
Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 72: 4863–4865.
26. HANEL, A.M. & W.E.M. LANDS. 1982. Modification of anti-inflammatory drug effectiveness by ambient lipid peroxides. Biochem. Pharmacol. 31: 3307–
3311.
27. LANDS, W.E.M. 1986. Fish and Human Health, Academic Press. Orlando, FL.
28. http://www.msc.org/about-us/vision-mission

Patricia Parisi
June 16th, 2012 at 9:12 pm

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