Saturday, November 13, 2010

A new study on omega 3

Omega 3 fatty acids are all the rage these days, and studies keep stacking up to support the general conclusion that everyone should include them in their diet.  That could be a problem for people who don't eat fish, or people who don't want to take fish oil supplements.
The main alternative sources of omega 3 are flax seeds (or the oils from them) and walnuts.  It has been debated for a few years whether or not these vegetarian sources of omega 3 fatty acids are quite as good as fish oil.  Most of the debating is driven by the supplement industry of course.  The basic reason they think fish oil to be superior is that it already has EPA and DHA, which are the essential fatty acids that "work the wonders" we keep hearing about in health studies.  The vegetarian sources of omega 3 (flax and walnuts) require the body to convert a different fatty acid, called ALA, into the more beneficial form of EPA and DHA. The theory is that this ALA-->EPA DHA conversion results in lower overall levels of EPA and DHA.  Score one point for the fish oil supplement industry.  But not so fast!  A new study suggests that the overall levels of EPA and DHA are not as low as we expected.  It appears that the body is able to "ramp up" its conversion of ALA when it detects a deficiency.  Score one for the human body!  [supplement industry booooos]

“The implications of this study are that, if conversion of plant-based sources of n-3 PUFAs were found to occur in intervention studies, and were sufficient to maintain health, it could have significant consequences for public health recommendations and for preservation of the wild fish supply...”

Bottom line: If you can't get enough natural omega 3 sources in your diet, then you might consider a supplement, especially if you are already at risk for coronary artery disease.  In that case, flax seed oil capsules might give you the best bang for your buck...despite what those slippery fish oil suppliers tell you.  ;-)


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