Alpha of Omegas
Posted On Oct 20, 2017
by Dr. Sharon McQuillan
PHOTOGRAPHY by Claire Benoist
There are a handful of desires that human beings universally share. We want to feel healthy and energetic. We want to achieve harmonious balance in our heads, hearts, and bodies. We want to enjoy the benefits of youth, and to feel as attractive as possible. One of the most effective ways to achieve these goals is to introduce an omega-3 supplement into your diet—regardless of age, gender, or current state of health.
These fatty acids perform many important functions in the body—most importantly, reducing inflammation. Maladies such as Alzheimer’s disease, cardiovascular disease, and osteoarthritis are all caused by inflammation, and a high-quality omega-3 is your first line of defense against these disorders. However, it is crucial to understand the differences between the myriad of omega-3 supplements offered and choose the right one for you.
Nature designed our bodies to have a balance of essential fatty acids that protect our blood vessels, hearts, joints, and nerves from inflammation. Two important classes of essential fatty acids control the inflammatory process in our bodies: omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-3s come from marine oils, walnuts, and flax seeds, and function to reduce inflammation. Omega-6 fatty acids are obtained from corn, soy, vegetable oil, and livestock, and trigger inflammation. When these fatty acids are balanced, the immune system protects you from infection and injury. Uncontrolled or exaggerated inflammation can cause pain, injury, and disability in virtually every organ system throughout your body.
Changes in food manufacturing practices have resulted in huge quantities of omega-6 fatty acids in our food supply—hydrogenated vegetable oils, high-fructose corn syrup, and genetically engineered corn and soy products are all major sources. At the same time, our consumption of omega-3 fatty acids has dramatically reduced, creating an imbalance of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids. The ideal ratio is 1:1. Studies show that the majority of Americans now have a 20:1 ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids, which accounts for many medical conditions plaguing society today. From there, the source, purity, potency, bioavailability (activity in the body), and fatty-acid content all determine the quality. Products on the market today vary greatly in terms of these characteristics, as well as health value that ranges from vital to worthless.
SOURCE AND PURITY
Although most popular omega-3s are derived from fish oil, such is not necessarily the best source for a variety of reasons. Fish live in polluted waters and eat other fish as their food source. This reality results in the accumulation of harmful toxins, such as mercury and organic solvents, which may not be removed during the manufacturing process of some fish oils. This poses a potential health risk, which is why pregnant women are advised to limit fish intake and not take fish oil supplements. To make matters worse, the fish parts used to create fish oil supplements are not the fillets, but rather leftover parts such as the scales, eyes, and fins.
Then there are omega-3 supplements derived from krill oil, tiny crustaceans at the bottom of the food chain. Krill do not consume other fish and compound toxin presence as with larger marine life. There is controversy, however, regarding the eco-responsibility of harvesting krill in open water, which is the primary food source for much marine life. A number of US retailers refuse to carry krill oil due to this practice.
The most important and healthful source of omega-3 products come from green-lipped mussel oil extract. This oil is harvested from mussels sustainably farmed in the purest waters of the world, New Zealand’s Marlborough Sound, where they feed on nutrient-rich, antioxidant-rich plankton. This creates the purest natural source for omega-3 fatty acids, free from heavy metals and solvents.
POTENCY AND BIOAVAILABILITY
Another important determining factor when we talk about omega-3s is the manufacturing process used to extract the oil. The oils are extracted by three different techniques: cold press, distillation, or supercritical fluid extraction. The latter process—more expensive and less-often used in manufacturing—results in marine oils abundant in “free fatty acids.” This form of fatty acids can be more easily and fully absorbed by your body than the other forms. Both cold press and distillation processes result in “bound” forms of fatty acids, which require multiple metabolic steps before entering the bloodstream. The supercritical process also removes the risk of allergic reaction to fish or shellfish where as the other processes do not remove this risk. An optimal omega-3 is produced via supercritical fluid extraction and delivers high concentrations of free fatty acids.
Large doses of traditionally manufactured fish oils can cause both bleeding problems and increases in harmful cholesterol, in addition to digestive challenges. When analyzing products for potency, free fatty acid content is relevant.
This should also be considered when manufacturers compare fish oil products on the basis of their EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). EPA and DHA have become “buzz words,” and therefore manufacturers attempt to out-do one another by creating products with increased amounts of EPA/DHA—without regard to the free fatty acid content or side effects associated with the total dose of oil. Never forget: Manufacturers are in business to sell their products.
EPA and DHA receive a lot of attention because they are both essential fatty acids—meaning they cannot be produced in the body and therefore must be consumed in the diet. We have focused much attention on these two fatty acids because they are, in fact, essential. This trend originated over 30 years ago with the discovery that Greenland Eskimos, who consumed large amounts of fatty fish, had fewer heart attacks and strokes. The cellular pathways accounting for this observation had not yet been fully elucidated, so it was assumed that EPA and DHA alone accounted for a reduction in cardiovascular risk. We now know, however, that there are other vital, biologically active fatty acids in marine oils involved in cardiovascular protection and many other health benefits. Controlling inflammation is the key.
Our current understanding of metabolism enables us to better understand how nutrients work in our bodies to preserve and promote health. Omega-3 fatty acids are essential in controlling inflammation and maintaining cell structure, yet Americans are largely deficient in these nutrients. Supplementation with omega-3s is one of the most important preventive measures we can take, but it should be with a pure, potent, complete product.
When choosing an omega-3 supplement, it is important to know how much of these essential fatty acids, such as EPA and DHA, are available in the free or bioactive form. Most fish oils contain fatty acids in the triglyceride form, which means it must be broken down in your body into the free form in order for you to receive its health benefits. Not only does this take significant time, but much of the free fatty acid is lost along the way, with only a small amount making its way to its final destination in the body. Much more omega-3 oil is required in the triglyceride form to get the same benefit.
The higher concentration of free fatty acids in green-lipped mussel oil makes them more readily available in the bioactive form, so they do not need to be metabolized or “digested” by the body. Such a supplement is more effective in smaller doses when compared with other fish oil products. The amount of omega-3 fatty acids in the wrong form will actually work against you, in that it interferes with your body’s blood clotting processes and raises LDL (a.k.a. “bad”) cholesterol levels in the blood. In most instances, it’s not how much omega-3 fatty acid a supplement contains, but how readily available it is to your body that determines its effectiveness. More free form omega-3 fatty acid in the supplement you choose translates to more benefits and faster results.
PATENTED GREEN-LIPPED MUSSEL OIL (PCSO-524) STUDIES
Analysis of this green-lipped mussel oil (PCSO-524) reveals 30 different fatty acids that work synergistically to reduce inflammation 100 times better than traditional fish oils. In 30 different clinical trials over 25 years, PCSO-524 reduced inflammation and relieved symptoms in degenerative disorders such as osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, and inflammatory bowel disease. PCSO-524 contains EPA and DHA, as well as 28 more fatty acids that create a significant anti-inflammatory effect, modifying 53 inflammatory pathways. (Even though PCSO-524 contains 30 different fatty acids, it has a far greater concentration of the “free fatty acid” form.) Accordingly, smaller quantities are required for an effective dose. PCSO-524 has similarly been shown to reduce pain and swelling as effectively as many anti-inflammatory medications (such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs), without the side effects and drug interactions associated with these products. NSAIDs cause approximately 16,500 consumer problems yearly, due to their tendency to increase bleeding as well as kidney and liver problems. Analysis has shown that there are up to 22 times higher levels of omega-3 free fatty acids in the PCSO-524 green lipped mussel oil extract than in a regular fish oil.
A crucial factor in choosing a proper omega-3 supplement is whether or not it interferes with platelet function—meaning it will not interfere with blood-thinning medications. A good omega-3 will prove efficacious on subtle, silent diseases such as cardiovascular disease, preventing and improving the conditions that lead to heart disease including high blood pressure, high triglycerides, and atherosclerosis. Omega-3s lower triglyceride levels by controlling the fat or lipids produced by the body, as well as the amount of triglyceride released into the bloodstream. In essence, this lowers the amount of fat in your blood, and hence your risk of suffering a heart attack.
Arrhythmia, an irregular or abnormal heart rate, affects nearly 10 million Americans and is the leading cause of sudden cardiac death. Clinical evidence shows that omega-3 may reduce arrhythmia and people who take omega-3 supplements after a heart attack cut their risk of sudden death by 45 percent.
Meanwhile, asthma affects 1 in 12 adults in this country, narrowing the airways to the lungs and causing them to overproduce mucous. This makes it very difficult to breath. Asthma is the direct result of inflammation. Omega-3 fatty acids help alleviate wheezing and allow for better air flow to the lungs.
And of course more than 1.4 million adults in the US suffer from some form of inflammatory bowel condition. People with inflammatory bowel disease are at increased risk of colon cancer. Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown clinically to improve gastrointestinal and digestive inflammation, which contribute to these conditions.
An omega-3 fatty acid supplement is an important step for optimal health. It will prevent many pressing medical conditions and rebalance fatty acid metabolism. It’s an issue we all deserve to be informed about, and a practice to integrate into our daily lives.