Flax Answers - Omega3

flax seed omega 3

Flax seed is a major source for omega-3 fatty acids

Society in general has become overweight, and we immediately tend to jump on the bandwagon of condemning the consumption of foods categorized in the "fats" food group. Even the term "fats and oils" will sometimes send shivers of repulsion into the minds of those who maintain a rigid and uncompromising diet pattern, swearing off all foods from this necessary food group. "Fats" has somehow become the shunned four-letter word of dietary watchdogs. But in our quick dismissal of trimming fat from our diets, we have also tended to forget some of the necessary functions of what is known as "essential fats". The terminology is certainly apt; as a certain amount of fat in the diet is absolutely essential for our health. Learning about "good fat" and "bad fat" is crucial to assist in making healthy choices. Cutting out all fat in your diet is not a prudent or healthy choice.

From Cave Dwellers to Condo-Owners

Civilization has certainly changed our lifestyles. Yet, the basic bodily needs have not changed since the beginning. Balance in life again is key. Our health relies upon the basic needs of fresh air, clean water, sunshine, exercise and a common sense balance of proteins, carbohydrates and fats.

Our diet has changed significantly since our cave-dwelling ancestors inhabited the earth. Certainly the "good old days" are not always as good as one tends to conceive. Yet, studies of the hunter-gatherer lifestyle have shown innate understandings of the body’s need for a balanced diet. This is where we gain even greater persuasion to understand the importance of essential fatty acids (EFA).

Due to lifestyle and dietary habits with fast-food and convenience foods, the general public has consumed a diet rich in fats. A common reaction then is to eliminate all or the majority of fat in the diet which is equally detrimental. The problem lies in the type of fat we ingest –too much saturated fat - known as the "bad fats" - the type that clogs arteries and raises cholesterol levels.

The diet of our ancestors included a good balance of essential fatty acids (EFA). Essential fatty acids (EFA) are grouped into two families, the omega-6 EFAs and the omega-3 EFAs. The omega groups are considered the "good fats" or known as the polyunsaturated fats. The omega-6 fatty acids are found in corn, safflower, sunflower, canola and soybean oils. Omega-3 EFAs are found in flaxseeds and flaxseed oil along with fish such as salmon, herring, trout, sardines and albacore tuna. Ground flaxseed and flaxseed oil provide a natural and concentrated level of omega-3 EFAs, without concern for chemical contamination that may be a risk with fish consumption.

Finding Balance – The Alpha and the Omega

Understanding the difference between the omega-6 and the omega-3 fatty acid is very important to know. It is more than just the difference in their numbers that should concern you.

Omega-6 fatty acids (found in vegetable oils with high proportions of linolenic acid) are best used by the body in a range of anywhere from a 4:1 to a 1:1 proportion with the omega-3 fatty acids. We need both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Yet, an excess of omega-6 fatty acids can have dire consequences. Many scientists believe that a major reason for the high incidence of heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, obesity, and some forms of cancer is the extreme imbalance between our intake of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids.

The parent compound in the omega-3 fatty acid is called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). It is this compound that serves as the "computer" or brain for the omega-3 fatty acid in determining how it will best maximize the body’s functioning.

Our ancestors evolved on a diet with a 1:1 ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids. Dietary changes over the last few centuries have changed this ratio anywhere from 20:1 to 25:1. This is clearly an equation for trouble, and today’s chronic health problems obviously exemplify this concern.

One of the primary reasons we ingest too much of the omega-6 fatty acid groups in our diet is the mass use of vegetable oils. This practice is so far-reaching that practically every fried food and snack food available has been cooked in soybean, corn, sunflower or canola oil. These oils are usually processed by hydrogenation. This changes their molecular structure so they are basically good for frying foods at a high temperature and providing a lengthy shelf-life in the grocery store. Unfortunately, these molecular properties in the omega-6 fatty acids promote inflammation, blood clotting and tumor growth.

The omega-3 fatty acids act entirely opposite. But, when the omega-6 fatty acids are disproportionately higher, the omega-3 fatty acids cannot compete with the omega-6 activity. When in balance, they work in concert, making sure for every action there is a reaction, helping to maintain stability in the body.

When the omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids maintain a healthy balance; they effectively become clearinghouses or message centers to the rest of the body to:

Alert the immune system to go into action
Signal the blood vessels to either widen or narrow
Tell blood platelets to clot or not by sticking together or separating
Regulate inflammation
Formulate neural networks for brain activity in learning, memory processes and mood regulation

Trouble is brewed when one fatty acid overpowers another. Clearly, the data shows we need to seriously increase omega-3 fatty acids in our diets. Omega-3 fatty acid deficiencies are increasingly prevalent with young children. A Purdue University study showed that children low in omega-3 essential fatty acids are significantly more likely to be hyperactive, have learning disorders and to display behavioral problems.

In the general public, studies have linked omega-3 deficiencies to chronic health problems of diabetes, cancer, arthritis, inflammatory diseases, depression, heart disease, hypertension, memory problems, weight gain and some allergies and skin conditions.

Researchers believe 60% of Americans are deficient in omega-3 fatty acids and approximately 20% of those have so little that test methods would not be able to detect even a trace in their blood.

Changing the Scenario

We imagine you are now convinced of the need for adding omega-3 fatty acids to your diet. Yet, probably wondering how to go about doing it and also wondering how much you need to add. As noted prior, the two major sources of omega-3 fatty acids are fish such as salmon, trout, and albacore tuna and flaxseed. Due to high risk of chemical contamination in fish products, we recommend flaxseed and flaxseed products to boost your omega-3 fatty acid consumption. Flaxseed is loaded with alpha-linolenic acid. Remember this is the "brain" of the omega-3 fatty acid molecule and assists in maximizing the benefits of nutritious foods. Most foods have far less omega-3 properties than what is found in flaxseed. In fact, it would take 25 cups of peanut butter to get the alpha-linolenic acid found in just 1/4 cup of ground flaxseed. Imagine those calories, not to mention the stares you might get when going through the grocery line with a cart full of peanut butter! To gain further information about adding flaxseed to your diet you can link to the recipes and preparing flax sections. Helpful facts are also provided in the nutrition information, with accompanying dietary guidelines.

Omega-3’s kept the mice’s brains working
A diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids slowed Alzheimer’s disease in mice, a new Canadian study suggested. The research provided the strongest evidence so far that “a deficiency in a specific dietary component could have a direct impact on a person’s risk of developing the neurological disease.”

Diet mattered to the brain of mice in the study; a diet that was poor in omega-3s, accelerated the process of Alzheimer’s, according to researchers. A number of previous studies had suggested that people who ate a diet rich in fish were less likely to develop Alzheimer’s and heart disease. Researchers guessed it was the omega-3’s that were responsible.

The new Alzheimer’s research, published in the medical journal Neuron, showed that one type of omega-3, called docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), seemed to keep synapses healthy. Synapses are the chemical connections between brain cells that enable memory and learning.

In this study, one group of mice was fed a soy and fish diet* and a second group a diet of safflower oil devoid of omega-3 fatty acids. After five months, researchers dissected the rodents’ brains to discover high amounts of synaptic damage in the brains of the Alzheimer’s-diseased mice that ate the DHA-depleted diet. They also found low levels of DHA in the brains of the mice and evidence of inflammation and cell damage caused by oxidative stress, conditions that DHA is known to protect against. The mice fed a diet poor in omega-3s also did poorly in memory tests, further evidence of brain damage.

The study was partly funded by the Canadian Institute for Health Research. Source: Picard A. Study finds omega-3 can ward off Alzheimer’s. Toronto; Globe and Mail; Accessed: 2004 Sept. 3. (*Editor’s note: Flax is rich in alphalinolenic fatty acid, the parent omega-3 fatty acid. Humans convert some ALA to DHA. The efficiency of this conversion is the subject of current research. Nevertheless, chickens convert ALA quite well; chickens fed a diet of flax, convert ALA to DHA and deposit DHA in the eggs. The omega-3 enriched eggs are good sources of DHA. DHA is found naturally in fish such as salmon and sardines, and in fish-oil capsules. For more information on flax versus fish as a source of omega-3 fats, go to the Flax Council’s Web site, www.flaxcouncil.ca or download their Flax versus Fish fact sheet here.)

NOTE: Information presented here does not replace seeking advice from your physician.